In what now seems like another lifetime, I lived briefly in Baltimore. I was just out of college and had my first post-graduation job there with the Social Security Administration. I soon decided that Baltimore was not for me and moved on to other cities, but whenever I read one of Anne Tyler's novels, I always get nostalgic for the place.
I know the people that she writes about. They are people whose plans for their lives did not go quite as expected and I can relate to that. Liam Pennywell is another one of those characters.
Liam is entering the seventh decade of his life and he has just lost his job through "downsizing". He finds that he's really not too upset about that. He didn't like the job anyway. He was a fifth grade teacher at a second-rate private school and he thinks maybe losing the job will be an opportunity to take early retirement and just do what he likes to do.
But what is that? He has no hobbies and no particular interests. The idea of just sitting in his rocking chair and thinking for the rest of his life appeals to him. After all, he had studied philosophy in college and had set out to make that his career before his life took a wrong turn and he was never able to find his way back.
Liam decides to "downsize" his life and move to a smaller apartment, but on his first night there, he goes to bed and wakes up in a hospital room with a cracked head. What happened? He can't remember and he becomes obsessed with regaining those lost hours of his life. His search for some way to remember leads him to new relationships and, at least for a short time, some drastic changes his life.
Anne Tyler writes about ordinary people and she makes us care about them. That is a talent beyond price in my estimation. This is a short book, a quick read. Once I started it, I didn't want to quit until I had finished. Liam Pennywell could be my neighbor, my friend - or me. He's certainly someone that I recognize, just as I recognize the apathy that plagues his life. I really want him to get out of that rocking chair and DO SOMETHING! But somehow I don't think he will, and after all, Noah didn't need a compass because he wasn't going anywhere. He was just waiting out the flood and floating wherever it took him. Not unlike Liam.