With the humour and poignancy of her classic The Accidental Tourist (though with a protagonist who doesn't venture far from home) Anne Tyler's brilliant new novel tells the story of a year in the life of Liam Pennywell, a man in his 61st year. A classical pedant, he's just been 'let go' from his schoolteaching job and downsizes to a tiny little out of town apartment, where he goes to bed early and alone on the first night, tucking himself in tightly... and wakes up in hospital unable to recall how he got there. Widowed, re-married, divorced and the father of three daughters, Liam is a man who is proud of his recall but has learned to dodge issues and skirt adventure. Obsessed with the gap in his memory, however, he sets out to uncover what happened to him, and finds instead an unusual woman with secrets of her own. His ex-wife, sensible Barbara, and his daughters worry about him but Liam blunders on.
This is a novel about memory and memory loss, about incidents and relationships which open up sight lines into a painful past long dead for a man who becomes aware that he hasn't really been present in his own life... There's late-flowering love, but that brings its own thorny problems. The title is the metaphor for Liam's life. One of Liam's three daughters is a born-again Christian (much to Liam's sceptical bewilderment) and her son, Jonah, colours in Bible stories. His grandson asks Liam if Noah had a gas-driven boat or a sailboat. Neither, replies Liam, he wasn't going anywhere, so he didn't need a compass either: he was just bobbing up and down, staying afloat, because t