Breathing Lessons covers the events of a day in the life of Maggie Moran, nearing fifty, married to Ira and with two children. Her eternal optimism and her inexhaustible passion for sorting out other people's lives and willing them to fall in love is severely tested one hot summer day. Maggie and Ira drive from Baltimore to Deer Lick to attend the funeral of the husband of Serena, Maggie's childhood friend. During the course of the journey, with its several unexpected detours - into the lives of old friends and grown children - Anne Tyler shows us all there is to know about a marriage: the expectations; the disappointments; the way children can create storms in a family; the way that wife and husband can fall in love all over again; the way that everything - and nothing - changes.
In Tyler's latest testing of the strangulating tugs and miraculous stretch of familial and marital ties, a middle-aged Baltimore couple (inexplicably linked, like so many of Tyler's lovers) take a one-day's detour-clogged trip to a funeral. It's a circuit of comic bumps and heartbreaking plunges that takes them home again to dwindling hope and options, but also to the certainty of love. Maggie Moran, 48, a nursing-home aide (although years ago, her purse-lipped mother had demanded college), was certainly a "klutz." Everyone, including Maggie's "closed-in, isolate" husband Ira, thought so. Maggie had a "knobby, fumbling way of progressing through life" feeling "as if the world were the tiniest bit out of focus. . .and if she made the smallest adjustment everything would settle perfectly into place." Maggie had indeed "adjusted" the focus of young Fiona, pregnant by Maggie and Ira's failure-bound son Jesse, at the very door of the abortion clinic (surrounded by amateur picketers). Through some hardworking, warmhearted lying, Maggie had forged Jesse and Fiona's marriage; and Maggie's "breathing lessons," coaching Fiona in pregnancy, had as much control over her granddaughter's birth as all Maggie's efforts to prevent the break-up of a young marriage with no connective tissue. Now Maggie is bent on retrieving Fiona and granddaughter back to Jesse - another Moran who's "thrown away his future," like Ira, who had dreams of being a doctor, but was hobbled by his own family, whom he loved and hated. (Could it be, however, in the words of a splintery geezer, netted by Maggie on the highway, that "what you throw away is all that really counts"?) Before the visit to Fiona, there's the funeral, and middle-aged classmates watch silent movies of their young selves. The camera had recorded Maggie and Ira as "ordinary" - in the way a sea shell marks genus but not the undulations of existence. Once home, Maggie's carousel of hopes stops, and she cries out: "What are we two going to live for, all the rest of our lives?" But Ira, wiser, shrewder, offers and welcomes love. A seriocomic journey in which, as always, underlying the character-rooted, richly comic turns, is Tyler's affectionate empathy for those who detour - and "practice life" to "get it right." (Kirkus Reviews)
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: 17th September 1992
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 13.1 x 2.3
Weight (kg): 0.23