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Breathing Lessons: A Novel Paperback – November 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

Maggie Moran's mission is to connect and unite people, whether they want to be united or not. Maggie is a meddler and as she and her husband, Ira, drive 90 miles to the funeral of an old friend, Ira contemplates his wasted life and the traffic, while Maggie hatches a plant to reunite her son Jesse with his long-estranged wife and baby. As Ira explains, "She thinks the people she loves are better than they really are, and so then she starts changing things around to suit her view of them." Though everyone criticizes her for being "ordinary," Maggie's ability to see the beauty and potential in others ultimately proves that she is the only one fighting the resignation they all fear. The book captured the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1989. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In perhaps her most mainstream, accessible novel so far, Tyler spins a tale of marriage and middle-class lives, in an age when social standards and life expectations have gone askew. While she remains a brilliant observer of human nature, there is a subtle change here in Tyler's focus. Where before her protagonists were eccentric, sometimes slightly fantastical characters who came at the end to a sense of peace, if not happiness, Maggie Moran and her husband Ira are average, unexceptional, even somewhat drab; and outside of some small epiphanies, little is changed between them at the story's close. It's this very realism that makes the story so effective and moving. Taking place on one summer day, when Maggie and Ira drive from Baltimore to Pennsylvania to a funeral, with an accidental detour involving an old black man they pass on the road and a side trip to see their former daughter-in-law and their seven-year-old grandchild, the novel reveals the basic incompatibility of their 28-year marriage and the love that binds them together nonetheless. This is another typical Tyler union of opposites: Maggie is impetuous, scatterbrained, klutzy, accident prone and garrulous; Ira is self-contained, precise, dignified, aloof with, however, an irritating (or endearing ) habit of whistling tunes that betray his inner thoughts. Both feel that their children are strangers, that the generations are "sliding downhill," and that somehow they have gone wrong in a society whose values they no longer recognize. With irresistibly funny passages you want to read out loud and poignant insights that illuminate the serious business of sharing lives in an unsettling world, this is Tyler's best novel yet. 175,000 first printing ; BOMC main selection; Franklin Library signed first edition.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345485572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345485571
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (192 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her 17th novel. Her 11th, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. A member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By PT Dilloway VINE VOICE on March 27, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Here's a good litmus test to show how good a book like "Breathing Lessons" is--nothing extraordinary happens and yet I did not want to put the book down. There are no conspiracies to rule the world or cover up some dark secret. There are no car chases, explosions, sex scenes (barely even any kissing), or exotic locations. No one changes or has an epiphany. Almost NOTHING happens--Maggie and Ira go to a funeral and when they come back they try to reunite their son and former daughter-in-law but nothing changes at all. To the average reader this book probably would seem really dull. Heck, if someone told me the plot of this book I'd think it was really dull too, but I didn't want to put it down.

The reason is that Maggie and Ira are so well-drawn and so familiar to me that they seem like people I know or COULD know. I think I could go to the supermarket and run into Maggie and Ira, that's how real they seemed to me. I suppose ther reason is that Tyler allows me as the reader to know just about everything regarding these two characters and their two personalities just come through so transparently in the story that they don't seem like CHARACTERS acting their parts; they seem like real people.

Because of this, even though very little happens to Maggie or Ira and even though neither of them changes by the end of the book, I cared so much about them that I wanted to keep reading right through the end so I breezed through the novel in a few days. In all honesty, what I really appreciate about this book is that it seemingly disproves almost everything I've ever read about how to write a book. This is purely a character-driven novel with very little "plot" except for the death of Maggie's friend's husband that gets the ball rolling.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on May 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
After reading the perfectly depressing "Amateur Marriage" I re-opened this novel, which I had read nearly two decades ago. In an instant, I was transported into the sad yet zany and hopeful world of Maggie: she meddles and fumbles, but has a good heart and never really messes anything up seriously. All of these lives are displayed with an arresting charm, through illusions, lost hopes, and the real value that there can be in a marriage that lasts in spite of all its frustrations and even its mediocrity. At least for me, this is very very moving and nakedly realistic, even wise. It is also charming in Tyler's hands and often comic without ever traducing the realism. Indeed, this novel has all of the virtues that "Amateur" lacked and I think it is a far better performance that addresses many of the same realities - just with characters that are more likable, more interesting, more fun.
Warmly recommended as a masterpiece of the mundane. Tyler makes Baltimore - of all places! - immortal. I loved it.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Budd on October 28, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Breathing Lessons is a novel that celebrates ordinary people. Anne Tyler places us in one day of the lives of Maggie and Ira Moran. Maggie and Ira have been married for 25 years; they have raised two children and have a grandchild. By most accounts, they are very ordinary people.
The ordinariness is what brings this novel to life. The reader is often granted a glimpse of Ira and Maggie's past memories that have been triggered by the days current events. The memories illuminate what circumstances influenced both of these people and shaped them to who they are today.
Maggie is scatterbrained and seeks to manipulate almost all situations, in ways that suit her. Ira, is very strong willed and sensible, haunted by a family that he cannot escape. Breathing Lessons asks the question, what holds this marriage together. Ira and Maggie are completely different, both seem somewhat unhappy. Throughout the course of the novel, we begin to understand the relationship and unravel the strengths amidst the weaknesses.
Overall, a great novel, once again Tyler does not disappoint. If you are looking for something fast-paced and dramatic, this novel is not for you. To fully appreciate Breathing Lessons, one must understand the flavor of this novel, ordinary. I am currently on a journey through all of Tyler's work; she is truly a master of her craft.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 7, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
As I was reading others' reactions to this novel, I found that many complained about Maggie's annoying character and how her scatterbrainedness seemed to detract from the story. Although I have to agree that this character enraged me at points in the story, I would also like to inform these critics that IF AN AUTHOR CAN CHARACTERIZE A PERSON IN THE STORY SO WELL THAT A READER IS REPULSED BY HER, SHE CERTAINLY DESERVES RECOGNITION, and this is the conclusion I have come to in my process of assessing this novel for my English class. Yes, it went slow; yes, the characters were sometimes aggravating. But Tyler's books are some of the most skillfully written which I have ever had the experience of reading. She reinforces the sacred institution that marriage is, gives us a model in Ira's patience, and shows us how important a person at whom you can, as Serena told Maggie, steal a glance when others are bothering you and you can't complain out loud. Rather than complaining because this book isn't the shallow, exciting "story" that typical readers expect, let's praise Anne Tyler for her skill.
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