In Noah’s Compass, Anne Tyler brings back a character that has appeared in many of her stories, the same seemingly lost man trying to find meaning in life. Reminiscent of Macon Leary in Accidental Tourist and Barnaby Gaitlin in A Patchwork Planet, the main character floating through life without a compass in Tyler’s newest novel is Liam Pennywell, a sixty year-old philosopher.
Like all of Tyler’s characters, Liam’s quirks and mundane habits carry the reader through routines and inner thoughts to be someone you would know. A man who is always willing to believe the worst of himself, Liam loses a teaching job from downsizing, and accepts his fate – as he has through a father who left when he was young, two marriages, three grown children, and his new late-in-life love. Life seems to have kept going without his noticing, and at some point, he wonders if he has actually been present in his life at all. Tyler uses the foil of memory loss from an actual whack on his head to symbolize more than a physical problem.
The story grabs your attention with spurts of action in the beginning, but then slows down considerably into the comfort of getting inside the heads of the characters.
If you are expecting to have a great moral awakening or a neat answer to the question of “what is the meaning of life,” you don’t know Tyler. It’s through the painstaking normalness of their lives that the characters succeed in becoming everyman – just struggling to live – with a smile now and then at the idiosyncrasies of chance.
In Noah’s Compass, Anne Tyler takes the reader once again on a familiar journey.