Review

Earthly Possessions

by Anne Tyler



Reading an Anne Tyler book is like taking a very long walk on a
deserted, but beautiful tropical beach...there is so much to look
at and take in, but there is not a lot going on. You don't read
Tyler for nail biting suspense or for complex plot twists, you read
Tyler because she draws you in with her unforgettable characters.
As their thoughts and memories spin around in your head, you stop
looking for the obvious action, and concentrate on what is going on
just beneath the surface.

Surprisingly, in the first few pages of EARTHLY POSSESSIONS (now an
HBO movie starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff) the plot seems
to overrun the characters. In the first scene, a kidnapping occurs.
While waiting in line at the bank, Charlotte Emory is taken hostage
by a robber. After stealing 200 dollars in ones, the scruffy young
man takes Charlotte by the throat and pulls her out of the bank.
Using his gun to threaten her, he forces her to run with
him.  

Charlotte went to the bank that day to withdraw money so she could
leave her husband. This is not the first time she has thought about
leaving her husband --- it's been a daily mantra that began soon
after her honeymoon. But there's more to Charlotte's problem than
wanting to leave --- it's that she never does. Born and raised in
small town Clarion, Maryland, Charlotte has always dreamed of
walking away --- first, from her obese mother and embittered and
beaten down father, and then from her husband and
family.  

When Jake takes her hostage, the two head south, bound together by
a strange twist of fate and his gun. Charlotte seems to take it all
in stride, just as she has everything else in her life. It's not
that she goes with him willingly, but in a strange way the long
road trip with Jake is her only way out of Clarion, and this is not
entirely a bad thing.

Using the paltry 200 dollars he stole and whatever he can find in
Charlotte's wallet, the two make their way down south, picking up
Jake's pregnant girlfriend on the way to their final destination,
Florida. The trip just gets more and more complicated, but
Charlotte retreats in her head and we see what brought her to this
point in the first place.

During the trip, Charlotte recalls going through the motions of her
daily life, raising children, caring for her aging mother, and
dealing with her reserved and withdrawn husband. But it seems that
every moment of her life has been shadowed by Charlotte's favorite
daydream --- getting rid of all her earthly possessions and walking
away. She loves her children, and her husband, to an extent, but
she feels as if they are all strangers, and she isn't one of
them.  

This sense of not belonging started when Charlotte was born. When
the nurses placed her, clean and swaddled, in her mother's arms,
her mother thought they must have switched babies. This surely
wasn't hers. When Charlotte was a child she told her that somewhere
in the world her real child was being raised by strangers. But she
assured Charlotte that she still loved her. Love, however, is not
the issue --- belonging is the real issue and that's what Charlotte
struggles with.  

The trip with Jake gives Charlotte a lot of time to think and to
feel...possibly for the first time in her life. By the end of it,
Charlotte makes a decision and walks away...from what? You'll have
to read the novel to find out. Anne Tyler's characters will not
disappoint you.

Reviewed by Dana Schwartz on January 21, 2011

Earthly Possessions
by Anne Tyler

  • Publication Date: August 27, 1996
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 197 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0449911810
  • ISBN-13: 9780449911815