Gail Cooke's Reviews > Noah's Compass

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
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Feb 07, 10



Following a Pulitzer Prize for BREATHING LESSONS and accolades from every newspaper, journal, and reviewer imaginable for other works what further praise could be heaped upon the unparalleled Anne Tyler? She has captured readers once again with a story of ordinary people, their hopes, joys, regrets, and fears. Ordinary people, yes, but intriguing to us because Tyler presents them with such discernment, kindness, wisdom and humor.

At 61 years of age Liam Pennywell lost his job. For him it wasn't much of a job anyway; he had a degree in philosophy. But, he had been teaching fifth grade in a second tier boy's school, and Noah accepted his unexpected unemployment stoically thinking, "This might be a sign. It could just be the nudge he needed to push him on to the next stage - the final stage, ....... The stage where he sat in his rocking chair and reflected upon what it all meant, in the end."

That was exactly what he intended to do but first he had to move into less expensive living quarters - a modest condominium on the rim of Baltimore. Unfortunately, that rocking chair would have to wait because on his first night in his new home someone broke in, assaulted him, and the next thing Noah knew he awoke in a hospital bed unable to remember what had happened and why he was there.

The lost few hours soon mean everything to him,; he becomes obsessed with remembering that time period. To him, "The distressing thing about losing a memory was that it felt like losing control." And, Noah does want things to be in control whether it is being bothered by mismatched dining chairs in a coffee shop or his grandson, Jonah, ignoring the lines in a coloring book.

Noah is a rather isolated individual with few friends, a sister of whom he's not particularly fond, twice married (once widowed and once divorced), and the father of three daughters he doesn't see very often. Nonetheless, when he is released from the hospital all rally about to help (or hinder) in various ways. In addition, he meets Eunice, a 38-year-old plump, rather frumpy woman given to wearing "balloony" trousers and heavy sandals. She serves as what might be called a "rememberer" for a very wealthy man who is suffering from dimentia. Noah believes that perhaps Eunice is precisely what he needs.

As Noah continues to pursue his quest for those lost hours we learn more about his earlier life, and see his daughters in greater depth. Tyler is a genius with spare prose and attention to telling detail whether it be a torn belt loop or long, flexible fingers "ending in nailbitten nubbins - lemur fingers." Every detail paints a broader picture of the character described. NOAH'S COMPASS is a rare beauty of a book - enjoy!

- Gail Cooke
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