Breathing Lessons (1988)

by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Breathing Lessons takes place over a single day. Maggie and Ira Moran travel out of town to a friend’s funeral and, on their return home, take a circuitous route to visit the seven-year-old granddaughter they haven’t seen in years and her mother, estranged from the Morans’ son, Jesse. The detour is Maggie’s idea; a well-meaning meddler, she thinks it might be in her power to mend Jesse’s marriage.

It’s really Ira and Maggie’s 28-year marriage, though, that is the focus of the book. They are opposites—Maggie talkative, illogical, and impetuous; Ira uncommunicative and practical. They have long since given up youthful dreams and settled into ordinariness. They are often exasperated with one another—Maggie with Ira’s being so close-mouthed she has to gauge his thoughts from the tune he’s humming, Ira with Maggie’s pouring out her heart to strangers and trying to alter others’ lives.

Nothing has changed at the end of the day, there are no epiphanies, but this isn’t a marriage headed for the rocks. There is tolerance and even affection in Maggie and Ira’s responses to one another’s habits. In an era when divorce is the answer for nearly half of married couples, what Tyler has given us in Breathing Lessons is the thought that even a dull marriage may have value to the partners in it.



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