Friday, 9 April 2021

Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler

I am a little bit late with this March read for the Anne Tyler project (hosted by Liz Dexter at Adventures in reading, running and working from home), which I finished just the other day. 

Family can be a trying thing, and that is what some of the members of the Peck family feels. They solve the problem by going away. If the other members are lucky, they will know where they are going, if not, like with Caleb, he disappears without a trace. 

"Duncan Peck has a fascination for randomness and is always taking his family on the move. His wife, Justine, is a fortune teller who can't remember the past. Her grandfather, Daniel, longs to find the brother who walked out of his life in 1912, with nothing more than a fiddle in his hand. All three are taking journeys that lead back to the family's deepest a place where rebellion and acceptance have the haunting power to merge into one..."

Anne Tyler is, once again, looking into the webs of family life. We meet the Peck family who is as close as anyone can be. Almost claustrophobically close. It is fine for most of the family members, which covers four generations. The first Peck (in the 19th century) bought a piece of land, or more like a park, in Baltimore, and built houses for all the family members. As they married and had children, the family increased, but they still managed to fit into the Peck family residences and the unspoken rule on how to behave towards each other and outsiders. Except a few persons who did not like the proximity of the family living.

The grand old man is Daniel, is in his 90s when the novel starts. His brother Caleb disappeared one day in his 20s and was never heard of again. Daniel has tried through the years to find his brother, but without success. 

His grandson Duncan is a restless soul and also leaves the family circle. Although he informs the family, and at the same time marries his cousin Justine (who becomes a fortune teller) and takes her all over the country. After a while in one place, Duncan gets the bug and has to leave for other pastures. Justine, the more social of the two, sighs, but go along. They have a daughter, Meg. The bohemian life of her parents does not find approval with Meg, and she keeps her private space tidy and neat, in contrast to the total chaos in the rest of the house and their lives. 

Duncan's thoughts about his urge to always uproot Justine and Meg.

"Yet it seemed he suffered from some sort of chronic dissatisfaction which came and went like malaria, and the only way to hold it back was to learn more and more new facts, as if continually surprising his mind."

Daniel finds a kindred spirit in Justine and she helps him to go looking for any trace he thinks he has found. Time is running out, and finally Daniel gets a helping hand from his family. As a birthday present they have hired a private detective to help him find his brother. 

It is interesting how Tyler examines the interactions of family life. Characters, as usual, well drawn and either makes you love them or not. The contrast between the family members who are 'stuck' in their old ways, or just adapt to the family views, and the few others who opposes and leave. If you cannot follow the rhythm of the family, it seems there is no other way than to leave the circle. 

I did love this novel by Tyler. Although, I don't agree with hardly any of the characters, it is interesting to stand outside, looking in. The search for Caleb creates a little bit of mystery, and we wonder if Daniel will ever find him. 

SPOILER WARNING:  If you want to read this book, you should stop here. When Caleb finally is found, and we get to see how he has lived his life, we realise that he just is so different from his family. However, some things you have learned early in life do not leave you easily. Caleb is found and disappears again. A short time afterwards Justine and Duncan receives a thank you note from his short stay with them. When you have read the book, you know that every family member has been taught to be polite and send a thank you note after each visit they do, family or no family. This twist of fate, which Tyler seems to enjoy in the end of her novels, is spot on. Maybe she wants to say that you cannot get away from your family ties, however hard you try. 


  1. A great review, and I loved the thank you notes, such a clever touch!

    1. I tend to forget that Tyler do make a twist in the end. There was another twist in the end of the story. But, I really loved this one. Just shows that what you learn as a child or youngster, stays with you for the rest of your life.

  2. What a wonderful review. You inspire me to add this one to my reading list, Lisbeth!

    1. Thank you Jeanie, I am so happy to hear. Anne Tyler is really worth reading. She is a master of family relations and manages to vary the themes through her books.