Style and Technique
Anne Tyler tells this story in a straightforward, realistic, and unsentimental style. “The Artificial Family” avoids both an overtly didactic message or a conclusive, tightly wrapped ending. Instead, readers must guess why Mary leaves Toby. The story leaves many unanswered questions: What is the meaning of Toby’s desire for children? Was this experience artificial or real for Toby and Mary? How will Toby cope with his loss? What will Mary and Samantha’s new life be like?
American novelist John Updike once described Tyler as a southern writer because, like Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers, she evokes a solid sense of family, place, and region. Tyler’s characters seem isolated from the large currents of change in American culture and evoke nostalgia for an earlier, simpler time. Tyler is preoccupied with character psychology but not corrupted with the modern idiom of clinical psychotherapy. The motives and desires of Toby and Mary are deftly implied and lightly sketched, leaving much room for creative interpretation.