This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Have you ever been so inspired by an author’s work that you wish you could tell them exactly how much they have impacted your life? In this series, Literary Love Letters, we do just that – share open love letters to inspiring authors. Today, The Dress Thief author Natalie Meg Evans writes to A Spool of Blue Thread author Anne Tyler.
We were introduced thanks to a glossy magazine. Long before the digital era, monthly titles like Cosmo, Honey and Over 21 sometimes appeared on the stands with a paperback inside their cellophane wrappers. I can’t remember which of them packaged you, but the book was Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and it must have been about 1983.
To be honest? I didn’t like the cover and I hadn’t heard of you. I consumed escapist fiction back then and was taking a long sabbatical from the classics that had dominated my school reading. I was also depressed, unemployed and suffering exam burnout. I’m not sure I knew it, but I was lonely and isolated in London, trying to make it as an actress. The last thing I looked for in my downtime was anything unpredictable. What made me push aside the pile of pastel-jacketed library books and open Homesick Restaurant? I can’t recall but your first line got me.‘While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her.’
I didn’t see it right then, but that juxtaposition of ‘dying’ and ‘funny’ conjures up your essence, Anne. You thrust contradictions at us in plain English. Perhaps I should say, in Baltimore, Maryland English. I don’t know if I get the correct accent in my head when I read your novels, and it always takes me a few pages to settle into your style, but once I’ve clicked into it, I am carried along on a slow, electric current.
Please take ‘slow’ as a compliment. Your literary canvas is restrained. Your characters sweat the small stuff, ambling towards mild contentment or faint disappointment, shaking their heads at the unintentional irony of life. But your women are always strong, even those who seem chaotic in the early pages. They have subtle, psychological arcs which is brave in this age of quick-fire judgements and short attention spans. You are a writer’s writer. The patina of your work is silky smooth, nuts and bolts shaved off, so that all that is left is your art. You make the ordinary brilliant. And you’re funny.
And this is what I want you to know; you re-calibrated my brain in 1983. I was 22, reading about Pearl Tull and her fractured family, in the state of pleasurable shock that comes when you’ve been led down an unexpected route to the familiar. You showed me things I innately knew, but in ways so new, my perspective shifted. You pressed a spring in my brain. A sticky lid flew up, light flooded in as I experienced the visceral joy of discovering a unique voice. I have never met you and likely never will but you got me writing again. It took me a while to find my voice. False starts and wrong turns aplenty, but you of all people will understand that ‘good writing’ is as elusive as a shadow puppet in a coalmine. I’ll quote Pearl: “There ought to be a whole separate language, she thought, for words that are truer than other words – for perfect, absolute truth.”
You gave me a goal; to dare to try to sum up the human condition just as flawlessly.
Natalie Meg Evans