Top positive review
A penetrating look into the mind of a teenage girl
on September 9, 2002
Anne Tyler's "A Slipping-Down Life" is the story of Evie Decker, a shy, plump teenager who always feels out of step with everything. She has no social life to speak of and spends her evenings listening to the radio. This habit is what sets the plot into motion when she hears an interview on a local radio show hosted by an elderly DJ named Herbert:
One evening in February there was a guest on the program. He came right after the "News of the Hour."
"I have here a Mr. Bertram Casey," said Herbert. "Better known as, known as Drumstrings." He coughed and shuffled some papers. "It's an honor to have you with us, Mr. Casey." No one answered. Evie was sitting on the bed, twisting her hair into scratchy little pincurls. When the silence grew noticeable she took a bobby pin from her mouth and looked at the radio. All she heard was static. Finally Herbert said, "Well. This is the beginning of a new feature on 'Sweetheart Time': interviews. May I ask if you are a native North Carolinian, Mr. Casey?"
Someone said, "Not for long I won't be." His voice was cool and motionless, like a stone plunked into a pool. Herbert coughed again.
"Whereabouts in North Carolina?" he asked.
"Farinia, yes. Off of Highway--"
"But I'm leaving there," said Drumstrings Casey.
"All right. Where is it you're going?"
"A city, some city. It ain't quite clear yet. I aim to cut records and play night clubs, and if I once wiggle out of here I'm never coming back again, not even for Christmas. If my family gets to missing me they can come to where I'm at, I'll buy them a house with white telephones and a swimming pool."
Evie is transfixed by this young man and shortly afterwards sees him perform live. Wanting something--anything--to make her life exciting, she ends up carving his name onto her forehead with nail scissors. This gets her the attention she wants, with very unlikely results.
Drum and Evie's relationship forms the core of the book, and it's a penetrating look at the way two people can be together and even love each other without ever really knowing or understanding what the other person is all about. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying--it felt abrupt and hurried to me, as though Tyler had suddenly tired of writing the novel--but the book as a whole is a delight and every word rings true.