Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Ben Joe is a law student at Columbia but misses his six sisters back in North Carolina and seems convinced that they can't manage without him. Bored with his studies, he makes an impromptu trip home. All is well there, except that the oldest sister, Joanne has left her husband back in Kansas and come back home with her toddler daughter. Ben Joe's sudden presence is taken in stride, almost as though he's never left, and once again he realizes that being back is not as gratifying as he had imagined. For solace, he turns to his high school girlfriend Shelley, who has been orphaned by a car accident but is much more upbeat than Ben Joe. She's obviously still carrying a torch for Ben Joe but hoping to marry her current boyfriend, John Horner, whom Ben Joe keeps referring to as Jack Horner of nursery rhyme fame. This is vintage Anne Tyler humor with the usual unusual family members and no tragedy to speak of. Ben Joe's mother hen tendencies may stem from the fact that his father, a doctor, abandoned the family for another woman in town, with whom he sired a child. The essence of the book, though, is in the details. One of my favorite scenes in the book is that of Ben Joe's train trip home, where he meets an old man on his way to a retirement home and an African-American family who admire his father. This encounter is especially intriguing, given that this book was originally published in 1964. I also loved the scene where Ben Joe appears unannounced at Shelley's, and her hair is in curlers. And there's a brief anecdote about the misunderstanding of a boat's name as Saga City rather than Sagacity. In some ways this book reminded me of The Graduate, without Mrs. Robinson.

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