I just finished reading If Morning Ever Comes (1964), Anne Tyler‘s first published novel. It takes place at Columbia University in New York City and in a small town in North Carolina, and what it shows the reader about family life and personal identity is as true today as it was fifty years ago. I was sucked into the story and found some peculiar incidents that reminded me of my own youth.
Ben Joe Hawkes, a law student at Columbia, squirms his way through the story as the only boy in a family full of girls. Since his father left and then died, he feels responsible for them. His mother, grandmother, and five sisters, along with a niece, all live in a large home that is ramshackle compared to the way he remembers it from his childhood. He is twenty-five when he decides to head home and check on things after the oldest sister leaves her husband in Kansas and returns home to a small North Carolina town.
When he arrives, nothing is quite the way Ben Joe remembers it. He doesn’t know what to do about it , either. When he is lying awake at night, unable to sleep, he stares at the ceiling and imagines everything upside down, walking on the ceiling and climbing through the door. I remember doing the same thing as a child.
When Ben Joe is away from his family, he remembers things in an idealized way. The real-time experience can’t possibly live up to the expectation. I know that feeling well. The ending is unexpected and yet makes complete sense. Ben Joe has been a bit lost, but manages to find himself by taking a leap of faith that morning will, eventually, come.