Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. While a handful of critics considered the book’s subject matter (“twenty-four hours in the life of a marriage,” as Tyler herself describes it) too mundane for this honor, the majority hailed the novel as most deserving of the award. Tyler may indeed focus on the regional (Baltimore and environs) and the ordinary in Breathing Lessons and her other novels, but her rich portraits of everyday people and events are grounded in universal themes that foster discussion long after her books are read. Like most of Tyler’s novels, Breathing Lessons leaves readers wanting more, questioning what the next Moran family adventure will encompass.
Whatever new events await the Morans, there is no doubt that Maggie will serve as a catalyst. Parts one and three of this tripartite novel are told from her perspective through a third-person narrator. (Part two, focusing primarily on the encounter with Mr. Otis, is presented from Ira’s point of view, again through a third-person voice.) Maggie’s energetic, positive, outgoing, and at times overly hopeful approach to life makes her one of Tyler’s most unforgettable characters. While Maggie has been described by some scholars as antifeminist and a thoughtless schemer, her good heart, basic unselfishness, and love for those around her cannot be dismissed.
The modus operandi of Maggie’s life, as perceived through Ira’s perspective, is as follows: Maggie “refused to take her own life seriously . . . to believe it was a sort of practice life . . . to play around with as if they offered second and...
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