Friday, April 2, 2010

Review : Noah's Compass

Author: Anne Tyler
Format: audio book 8 discs, 288 pgs equivalent
Characters: Liam Penneywell
Subject: aging, mid-life
Setting: Baltimore
Source: audio download from public library
Challenge: Support your public library

I finally finished one of Anne Tyler's books. This one really took a long time to get going, and it was certainly a depressing tome. It is the story of Liam Penneywell, a 61 high school teacher, who has been riffed from his job, twice divorced, and then burgled and attacked on his first night in a new apartment. The entire book is a seemingly never ending slog through Liam's quest for remembrance, and his attempts to figure out his non-too-successful life. It is truly depressing. However, as a reader/reviewer, one must say that Tyler certainly writes well....she is obviously trying to portray this sorry shuffling "old" not old man, and she does a superb job of doing it with minimalist prose. Finally, as we get to the end, Liam has a conversation with his ex-wife that really sums up this character in a nutshell. They were having a conversation about how his life had gone.
"Are you telling me you really agree? You believe you're a bad person?" (ex-wife)

'Oh....not bad in the sense of evil," Liam said. " But face it, I haven't exactly covered myself in glory. I just don't seem to have the hang of things somehow. It's as if I've never been entirely present in my own life."
One day he has a conversation with his grandson Jonah about Noah and the ark. Jonah wants to know how Noah knew where to go since he didn't have any gas and he didn't have a compass. Liam tells Jonah that Noah didn't need a compass as he wasn't really trying to go anyplace. He just had to stay in the ark and float around and eventually he'd be there. Liam seems to look at the last years of his life in the same way.

After he takes a job as a "zayde" at a Jewish preschool, he realized
..He had lost his last chance at love...he knew that....he looked around at his current life...the classroom filled with Big Bird Posters, his anonymous apartment, his limited circle of acquaintances, and knew this was how it would be all the way to the end.

How depressing.


  1. I have not read this book but you would think the author would give us some ray of hope as to how Liam could get out of this depressive cycle he's in. But then maybe that would ruin his character.

  2. I've always found Anne Tyler depressing. Her sad characters make me want to just slap some sense into them.


Welcome, thanks for stopping by. Now that you've heard our two cents, perhaps you have a few pennies to throw into the discussion. Due to a bunch more anonymous spam getting through, I've had to disallow anonymous comments. I try to respond to all comments posing a question, but may not always get to you right away.