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Breathing Lessons [Paperback]

Anne Tyler
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 14 2003

In Breathing Lessons, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1989, we meet the harum-scarum Maggie, married for 28 years to competent, infallible Ira. On a hot summer day they are driving to Deer Lick, Pennsylvania, 90 miles from their home in Baltimore, to the funeral of a friend. During the course of that journey, with its several unexpected detours, Anne Tyler shows us all there is to know about a marriage: the expectations and disappointments; the way children can create storms in a family; and the way that a wife and husband can fall in love all over again.

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From Amazon

Maggie Moran's mission is to connect and unite people, whether they want to be united or not. Maggie is a meddler and as she and her husband, Ira, drive 90 miles to the funeral of an old friend, Ira contemplates his wasted life and the traffic, while Maggie hatches a plant to reunite her son Jesse with his long-estranged wife and baby. As Ira explains, "She thinks the people she loves are better than they really are, and so then she starts changing things around to suit her view of them." Though everyone criticizes her for being "ordinary," Maggie's ability to see the beauty and potential in others ultimately proves that she is the only one fighting the resignation they all fear. The book captured the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1989. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In perhaps her most mainstream, accessible novel so far, Tyler spins a tale of marriage and middle-class lives, in an age when social standards and life expectations have gone askew. While she remains a brilliant observer of human nature, there is a subtle change here in Tyler's focus. Where before her protagonists were eccentric, sometimes slightly fantastical characters who came at the end to a sense of peace, if not happiness, Maggie Moran and her husband Ira are average, unexceptional, even somewhat drab; and outside of some small epiphanies, little is changed between them at the story's close. It's this very realism that makes the story so effective and moving. Taking place on one summer day, when Maggie and Ira drive from Baltimore to Pennsylvania to a funeral, with an accidental detour involving an old black man they pass on the road and a side trip to see their former daughter-in-law and their seven-year-old grandchild, the novel reveals the basic incompatibility of their 28-year marriage and the love that binds them together nonetheless. This is another typical Tyler union of opposites: Maggie is impetuous, scatterbrained, klutzy, accident prone and garrulous; Ira is self-contained, precise, dignified, aloof with, however, an irritating (or endearing ) habit of whistling tunes that betray his inner thoughts. Both feel that their children are strangers, that the generations are "sliding downhill," and that somehow they have gone wrong in a society whose values they no longer recognize. With irresistibly funny passages you want to read out loud and poignant insights that illuminate the serious business of sharing lives in an unsettling world, this is Tyler's best novel yet. 175,000 first printing ; BOMC main selection; Franklin Library signed first edition.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Haunting and Fascinating Book Dec 11 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
It is interesting to see how people review this book and how some loved it and some hated it. I personally love Anne Tyler and this book is an amazing work.
The book has just the right amount of humor and drama. I felt by the end that I really knew the characters. I read it when I was 15 and reading it three years later I have learned to appreciate it more. I don't feel Maggie was condescending at all, she just desperately wanted to hold onto the past. Ira, although tactless, truly believed the truth would set people free. He was just that kind of person. Maggie had such high expectations for her son and truly believed he could do no wrong, whereas Ira probably saw a person who was living a life free of responsiblity. The book was so intricate with people's lives it seemed so real. I know people just like them. No one had bad intentions, no one was malicious, they just all had faults and I think the moral was that you just love people for who they are.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Completely Credible Characters March 8 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
So many reviewers have gone over the plot, so I shall spare you yet another repetition. Like many, I was annoyed throughout at the level of dysfunction displayed by all the characters and not just Maggie; but this proves a point. Like most reviewers, including those who disliked this book, Anne Tyler thoroughly involves the reader in her story. I enjoyed this book as I have other Anne Tyler's books, basically because I find them "easy reads", stories that hold my attention, make me laugh and keep me turning pages. If I am any judge, then I feel that Breathing Lessons comes through as a deceptively simple story, as Anne Tyler is a master in control of her novel which is technically brilliant, humorous and filled with completely credible characters.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing July 7 2003
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
What a disappointing book especially after reading The Accidental Tourist, which I liked. I admired the character Ira for his love and loyalty to Maggie, but both are losers who let life just happen to them. Ira is a depressed man and Maggie needs to get a life. She was so annoying and I was so disappointed by the end. The details just went on and on and I kept hoping it would get better. In the end, I felt so sorry for Fiona and Leroy. Maggie is cruel and selfish. I was appalled that she continued preparing dinner when Fiona just found out that not only Jesse didn't give a hoot about her soap box, he was seeing someone else, all going on in front of her granddaughter.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Soooo special June 11 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Ann Tyler specializes in opposites and what attracts them to each other. The bulk of Breathing Lessons takes place during a car ride from Maryland to Pennsylvania that a middle-age couple, bound together by who-knows-what, take to attend a funeral. Most of Tyler's characters are misfits or eccentrics. In Breathing Lessons, she focuses on a couple so average as to be boring, and nothing much happens to them by the end of the trip/book. But we, her readers, come to understand the serious business of relationships and the ties that bind. Hilarious in spots, as all of her books are, it is the poignant insights into the moments that show this couple in all their everyday uniqueness that we remember long after closing the book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Most annoying book I ever remember reading... June 7 2003
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This must be the most annoying book I can ever remember reading. The lead character Maggie just made me feel like slapping her! So at least in that respect the book did provoke an emotional reaction. I forced myself to finish the book and now wonder why...
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2.0 out of 5 stars Maggies not a meddler but downright cruel March 7 2003
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Many reviews refer to Maggies as a hopeless but well intentioned character. I found her actions at times bordering on cruelty particularly in her treatment of Fiona. Fiona, teenaged and pregnant, living away from her mother and incredibly vulnerable was manipulate and plain lied to by Maggie - and what for? So Maggie could become a grandmother and have a sense of self - worth and so also she could feel that her son was somehow noble and sweet - injecting herself into her son's and her daughter-in-law's lives. The saddest thing ever in the book was Jesse's failure to make the cradle - the supposed promise that he would - Maggie's lies about Jesse's intentions was the clincher for Fiona in making her decision to continue the pregnancy. Maggie cannot accept that her son is a loser who sends child support payments many months late and her attempt to encourage Fiona back to him when she has gotten on with her life is cruel in the extreme - not to mention for the little girl. We discover when disaster strikes that Jesse has been seeing another girl anyway - thanks to Ira's outbursts. How can Maggie possibly justify the fact that her son never visits or seems to wish to play in any role in his daughter's life. All the characters in this book made me cringe and the only one I felt any sympathy for was Fiona - as for Maggie - she just needed a few good hard slaps (not that I condone violence!!).
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Format:Mass Market Paperback
Almost everyone enjoys Tyler's wit, sagacity and style. Her books are mostly about people enmeshed in the ceremonies, traditions and frustrations of contemporary relationships.
Maggie and Ira Moran, married 26 years, are on their way from their home in Baltimore to the funeral of an old friend in Pennsylvania. In the scope of one day and in 200 miles, Tyler explores the ties that hold a family together with warmth and a sense of irony.
Maggie's a bungler, an incorrigible meddler concerned with everyone's problems but her own, trying to make everything turn out all right for others while her marriage flounders. Ira is the typical middle-aged failure, a man to whom ambition is a long-dead memory but who agonizes over his mediocrity.
Through leaps back and forth through time and imagination, Tyler draws a message that comes through loud and clear: how important it is to realize how much we love those nearest and dearest to us. It's a look at aging that won't shock those who are experiencing it as much as it will younger folks who haven't thought this far ahead. The lessons are important.
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