Another beautiful book by Anne Tyler (how is it that I have never heard of her amazing writing before?!). This one from 1974 shifts the narrator among a handful of people, beginning with Amanda in 1960, gone home to Baltimore with her sister Laura to help their brother Jeremy bury their mother. Once she discovers that her mom left her house to Jeremy, the sisters depart and are only shadows in the remaining story. But we get a glimpse of Jeremy in her story, a man incapable of leaving the house to visit his mother in the funeral home, a man lost in his own world spending hours creating art in his upstairs studio while letting the elderly boarders roam around the rest of the house willy-nilly.
We get a chapter with Jeremy as the main focus but he never achieves first person narration. Next up in the narrator’s slot is Mary, a woman who arrived at the boarding house with her four-year-old daughter in tow, escaping a husband and intent on marrying another man. Her husband refuses divorce, the other man loses interest, Jeremy is blinded by her dazzling looks and comforts her as best he can. When he comes across her crying, “his voice wavered, as if he might start crying himself. Sad people are the only real ones. They can tell you the truth about things; they have always known that there is no one you can depend upon forever and no change in your life, however great, that can keep you from being in the end what you were in the beginning: lost and lonely, sitting on an oilcloth watching the rest of the world do the butterfly stroke.”
Jeremy pseudo-marries her (they pretend to get married, since she can’t, because the husband won’t divorce her) and they start to churn out babies. His art thrives, he becomes successful. The house hums along in orderly fashion with Mary at the helm. And yet, the sounds of the children and Mary’s household questions starts to overwhelm him. Eventually Mary’s husband divorces her, Mary suggests that she and Jeremy get married for real, she proposes a date and reminds him and reminds him but he never leaves his studio, so she leaves with the kids to an abandoned shack his art dealer has for his boat. Jeremy comes out once, is overwhelmed by her competency, goes back to his art and to the other elderly boarder, Miss Vinton, who shows her own predilection for solitude: “If you were to ask my vision of the future back then, my favorite daydream, it was this: I would be reading a book alone in my room, and no one would ever, ever interrupt me.”