With her 12th novel, "Saint Maybe," Anne Tyler adds to her already sizable colony of gently eccentric, fictional Baltimoreans.
At least we think they're fictional.
But don't we all know someone who seems to have wandered out of an Anne Tyler novel? Someone pale and vague and spinsterish. Someone who favors clothes of indeterminate vintage, food of comforting sameness and streets of well-trod familiarity. Someone who lives in the same faded, cluttered house that his parents and grandparents lived in.
Sound all too familiar? Take this quiz and see if you are turning into an Anne Tyler character.
1. Do you drive:
a) a car that's always in the body shop?
b) to the same places all the time but still get lost?
, c) or do you just stay home?
a) Driving wouldn't be so hard if it weren't for distractions like, well, life. Maggie of "Breathing Lessons," for example, was driving her newly repaired car out of the body shop when she heard her ex-daughter-in-law call in to a radio talk show about her upcoming remarriage. Maggie, naturally, crashed into a Pepsi truck and smashed her left fender, "the only spot that had never, up till now, had the slightest thing go wrong with it." 5 points.
b) "One of the qualities that all four Leary children shared was a total inability to find their way around. It was a kind of dyslexia, Macon believed -- a geographic dyslexia," the narrator of "The Accidental Tourist" says. "And it used to be that whenever [his son] Ethan met a new boy, Macon's first anxious question was, 'Where exactly does he live, do you know?' . . . He couldn't just hang out with the boy next door; oh, no, it had to be someone who lived way beyond the Beltway." 5 points.
c) Given such driving records, it's no wonder there are so many homebodies in the Tyler canon -- like Jeremy in "Celestial Navigation," who crumpled into a teeth-chattering heap on the sidewalk when his sister tried to take him to the funeral home for their mother's wake. 10 points.
2. Do you treat yourself by going to:
a) the Polo Grill?
PD c) the Lexington Market for a combination beef and bean burrito?
a) Too nouveau for the kind of repressed souls who populate Anne Tyler's Baltimore. No points.
b) Danny and Lucy of "Saint Maybe" celebrated their engagement here. 5 points.
c) Daphne's cure for a bout of unemployment in "Saint Maybe." 5 points.
3. I live with:
a) my widowed mother or father.
b) my siblings, who are married or not or in some nebulous state in between.
c) my siblings' children.
d) medical students, cardigan-wearing spinsters and other boarders who leave half-eaten, pre-moldy, single-serving-sized food in the communal refrigerator.
A, b, c and d are all tres Tyler. If you're looking for a nuclear family, see Dick and Jane. 5 points.
4. Do your meals tend to be:
b) eaten standing up?
c) happy family affairs?
& d) carefully balanced?
a) Tyler fare tends toward the comfortingly bland -- Macon Leary of "The Accidental Tourist," for example, favors the Old Bay Restaurant for the crab soup because it tastes the same way it did when he was 9 years old. The Leary siblings' all-time favorite food, however, is baked potatoes: "so cozy, and also, well conservative . . ." No points.
b) Matthew of "The Clock Winder" is typically Tyleresque when it came to eating: "Most meals he ate standing at the stove, spooning large mouthfuls directly from the pot to save dishwashing. Once when Elizabeth came for supper he had started to do that -- dipping a fork absent-mindedly into the stew pot . . . -- and all Elizabeth did was reach for the potato skillet and find herself another fork. Halfway through the meal they traded pans." 5 points.
c) The characters of "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" spend the entire book trying, unsuccessfully, to have one of those mythical family meals rather than their own kind, with someone exiting stormily before the main course and soup gone cold waiting for a missing member. No points.
d) "Her idea of a meal was saltines and tea," Ira of "Breathing Lessons" remembers of his mother. No points.
5. I left Baltimore:
a) once on vacation, but only to go downy ocean and then we came back early anyway.
b) once, but my mother got sick or my brother died, so I came back.
c) to go to college, but I dropped out and came back.
/# d) often, but very reluctantly.
a, b, c and d: Like "The Accidental Tourist," a travel writer who hated to travel, most Tylerites, all things considered, would rather be in Baltimore. "Although he lived with Justine and made all those moves with her he called it visiting; he considered himself a citizen still of Baltimore, his birthplace. All other towns were ephemeral, no-account; he shuffled through them absent-mindedly . . ." is how "Searching for Caleb" describes Daniel Peck. 5 points.
6. Do you shop at: