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Look Inside | Reading Guide
Aug 27, 1996
| ISBN 9780449911785
Jan 05, 2011
| ISBN 9780307788313
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Aug 27, 1996 | ISBN 9780449911785
Jan 05, 2011 | ISBN 9780307788313
"A triumph."HARPERSBen Joe Hawkes is a worrier. Raised by his mother, grandmother, and a flock of busy sisters, he’s always felt the outsider. When he learns that one of his sisters has left her husband, he heads for home and back into the confusion of childhood memories and unforseen love….
ANNE TYLER was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the author of more than twenty novels. Her twentieth novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015…. More about Anne Tyler
A Conversation with Anne TylerMichelle Huneven lives in California and is the author ofRound Rock and Jamesland.Michelle Huneven: Was this your first book? Had youwritten fiction before? In 1964, creative writing wasbarely a college-course subject let alone a major or Ph.D.degree. That said, did you study writing in college?When did you first think of becoming a writer?Anne Tyler: If Morning Ever Comes was the second bookI wrote but the first to be published. (I’d written an earliernovel toward the end of my last year in college.) Mymajor was Russian, oddly enough. Writing was just asideline, something I indulged in purely for fun while Iwaited to see what I was going to do with my life.MH: Where were you when you wrote If Morning EverComes?AT: I was newly married, working as a Russian bibliographerat the Duke University Library, when I wrote thefirst few chapters. Then we moved to Montreal, and afterour plane landed, I forgot to claim the suitcase I’d packedmy manuscript in. I realized it about a week later, but Idecided it wasn’t worth the cab ride to the airport. Sometime after that my husband went to the airport to meet afriend and thought to reclaim the suitcase from lost luggage,and then because I couldn’t find work for sixmonths, I ended up finishing the novel just to entertainmyself.MH: What were the first seeds of this novel? How did youcome to write it from the stance of Ben Joe, a twentyfive-year-old male? How long did it take you to write?AT: My husband used to talk about a friend he’d madewhen he first came to this country from Iran—a younghospital orderly who was the head of a household ofmany, many rather feckless sisters for whom he feltpersonally responsible. I enjoyed fantasizing about thatsituation.Adopting a male point of view was an act of defiance,in a small way. One of my teachers claimed that mencould write from a woman’s viewpoint because they’dbeen raised by women, but women couldn’t write from aman’s viewpoint because they didn’t have the same intimateassociation with their fathers. I thought he waswrong, wrong, wrong.It’s my recollection that the book took me ninemonths to write. In those days I didn’t rewrite—didn’teven seriously think, it seems to me now, and that’s whyit was such a short process.MH: There are, it seems, many themes and concerns inIf Morning Ever Comes that you’ve continued to exploreand build on in the fifteen other novels you’ve written inthe last forty years. What, to your mind, are some ofthese? What are the themes and concerns you’ve leftbehind?AT: I guess I do see some continuity in the issues ofinsider/outsider, of rootedness in a certain place, and ofhow much right we have to intrude in others’ livesor attempt to change them. But the fact is that IfMorning Ever Comes almost seems to have been writtenby a stranger; I’ve moved so far away from most of itsconcerns.MH: If Morning Ever Comes feels more Southern to methan many of your more recent Baltimore-set novels;there are African-American characters, and it has moreof a small-town feel. It reminds me of Eudora Welty. Wasshe an early influence? Who were other early influences?Were any other of your early novels set deeper in theSouth?AT: Now I am astonished by how very Southern thebook is, or “Southron,” as a writer friend and I used to sayderisively whenever we thought a novel’s Southernnessseemed to be its main quality. I don’t believe the Southis still so distinct a culture nowadays, although the bookseems to me a faithful portrait of the way things were atthe time.Eudora Welty was an enormous influence. I thank herfor giving me the idea that the world I was living in—a world very similar to hers—was a fit subject for literature.And I believe that some of the tone of voice inIf Morning Ever Comes owes a clear debt to the world’sbest writing teacher, Reynolds Price. His style was verycontagious. When I was his student, back in 1958through 1960, every last one of us wrote short storiesthat sounded like a combination of Reynolds Price andJ. D. Salinger, if you can imagine.My first three novels were set in North Carolina—thisone plus The Tin Can Tree and A Slipping-Down Life. Myfourth, The Clock Winder, described a young woman intransition from North Carolina to Baltimore. By thattime I’d been living in Baltimore for several years; I guessit took me awhile to make my own transition, internally.MH: What was it like to be such a young novelist? Howdid you cope with reviews—which, from what I’vefound, were largely positive, but several still had thatpenultimate paragraph of complaint? What early habitsand stances adopted as a young novelist have lasted yourentire career?AT: I was so naive; I don’t remember thinking much atall about being a young novelist, and I didn’t understandfor years how lucky I’d been to land with Alfred A.Knopf and my wonderful editor, Judith Jones, who is stillmy editor to this day. I think I just assumed that everyonewho wrote a novel would be published sooner orlater.The reviews I don’t remember, except that one personsaid the book was “about as exciting as a cucumbersandwich,” which hurt my feelings at the time but nowseems apt.I had no work habits, no discipline, no system at all inwriting my early books, and I believe it shows. All of thatcame later.MH: What are your feelings about If Morning EverComes now, as you look back at it after writing so manyother books? Have you reread it in recent years?AT: I reread it just so I could answer these questions, andI’m amazed that it was ever printed. It’s a book by someonewho doesn’t yet have anything to say.MH: The psychology of the Hawkes family is beautifullyunderstated yet accurate and timeless in its insights.Which to you are the most intense/devastating/memorablemoments in the book?AT: I was touched by Shelley and intrigued by Joanne,who, I see, is not an entirely virtuous character; I’m surprisedI was capable of that much complexity. But I wonderif I liked Ben Joe’s mother back then as much as I donow. Now she seems strong and admirable and dignified,while back then, I believe, I meant for her to seemunnaturally cold. (Funny how that works. Now that I’mgrown, I find Melanie in Gone with the Wind much morelikable than I did in my youth.)MH: The title comes from a passage in the novel—butwhy did you you choose this specific title and passage?Did you have any other ideas for a title?AT: I always planned to use that title somewhere, afterhearing a family friend tell the story that introduces thephrase. I don’t think it has much relevance to this particularnovel, to be honest.
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