It is hard to believe that Anne Tyler wrote this book, her first, when she was only 22 years old. To have such perception, such vision, such maturity, and such knowledge of the intricacies of family life is something I would expect of a writer twice that age.
This is also, I believe, her only novel set in the south, where Tyler was brought up. In a rare interview, she has said that she considers herself a Southerner. She certainly paints a good picture of a typical extended southern family! And this family has all the quirks and curious behaviors that have become Tyler's hallmark over the years.
Poor BenJoe...he is so confused, having taken the path of least resistance by going to law school in New York City, a totally foreign element to this small-town boy. He uses the slightest excuse to rush back home where he gets into everyone's business in a few short days, even though the houseful of women (mother, grandmother, five sisters, and a niece) clearly was doing just fine without him. Tyler makes us like him. She writes from his point of view and gets it letter-perfect.
This book is about much more than a small-town extended southern family - it is about birth and death, living and dying, and the unbreakable bonds of family.