Saturday, May 12, 2007

What I'm Reading: Digging to America

When I was going to New York and back two weeks ago, the bus rides gave me some precious uninterrupted reading time, and I read all of Anne Tyler's Digging to America. I got turned on to Tyler by Nick Hornby. (That could almost make it sound like Nick is a pal and we sit around drinking beer and watching World Cup matches together. Sadly, untrue. He's just one of my favorite writers, and I've read a couple interviews.)

Digging to America at first felt a lot like Breathing Lessons (for which she won the Pulitzer), but quickly diverged. She's so good at drawing her characters and the small essential dramas of their lives. In some ways not much happens in her books (I usually hate books like this), but there really are a lot of tiny conflicts going on within and between her characters in this proscribed, somewhat domestic realm that they inhabit. And she has a sense of humor. She's definitely a writer that I read and say, "I want to figure out how to write like that." It's a lot harder than it looks.

This particular book was useful for me, too, because the book I'm currently writing is sort of based in domestic realism (much more so than anything I've ever written), and also deals with race and adoption. We have very different takes on these things, but it was helpful for me to see how she handles it all. Digging to America shifts 3rd person POV to a different character in just about every chapter, which was intriguing, though it didn't always work for me. This was especially problematic late in the book, where suddenly we're seeing through the eyes of a child, which I found annoying because I wanted to have more insights into what was happening. (I don't imagine Ms. Tyler is worried what I think.)

I should probably reread this one, to look more carefully at how she pulls it off, but I think I'll read The Accidental Tourist instead. (After I get through the pile of P.G. Wodehouse from the library, and Anna Karenina (honest), and two new Michael Pollan books that I got for my birthday.)

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