Book Review: Searching For Caleb by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler

‘Searching For Caleb’ was this holiday’s Anne Tyler book of choice.  It was surprisingly, first published way back in 1975.  I wouldn’t have realised that when reading it.  Although 40 years isn’t so long ago, its a long time in contemporary fiction.  Perhaps that’s testimony to Anne Tyler’s timeless writing.

As with all Tyler’s stories this is about family.  The slightly eccentric and self absorbed Peck family in this instance.  The Pecks pride themselves on their closeness and ability to live in a self contained and exclusive way.   They are indeed successful but, they are also smug,  and from their lofty heights they have elevated themselves to, they gaze down upon those around them. To be a Peck you have to live in a certain way which they assume must be the envy of all.  As with most families, all is not as it may seem.

Caleb Peck left the family.  One day he just walked out and never came back. His brother Daniel Peck, now 91, with the help of his unconventional granddaughter Justine is searching for Caleb.  Justine who was once very conventional broke that mould when she married her cousin Duncan.  Similarly to Caleb, Duncan too, one day up and left.  Justine and Duncan make for an odd couple.  He is constantly restless, moving his family from one southern state to another as he searches for something he just can’t seem to find.  Justine who has become a fortune teller and resigned to this nomadic life follows him.  As she urges their grandfather forward in his relentless searches for Caleb , she is also searching for that  part of herself she left behind when she married Duncan, leaving the safety of the Peck enclosure.

On the surface, and as the story begins it may seem fairly standard but as characters and themes of searching and finding oneself emerge it becomes more complex and deliciously engaging.  For stories about the minutiae of human nature and family life, Anne Tyler is hard to beat. This book also ends so well, and you can’t say that about too many books.

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  1. June 16, 2016 / 2:04 pm

    I know I’ve read this but it was a while ago – I may have to pick it up again after reading your review. I am always amazed at how Anne Tyler writes dialogue – I can hear her characters talking rather than just read their words. I haven’t been able to work out if my favourite Anne Tyler is Back when we were grown ups or Ladder of Years or … just about any one of her books! Just finished reading Miss Pettigrew lives for a day (Persephone Books) – and have loved it.
    Sorry for the long comment – I’m avoiding the football.

    • June 21, 2016 / 8:06 pm

      I completely agree with you about her dialogue, it lifts her characters from the page. I’m not sure which my favourite would be either,so many to choose from. I love persephone books, I haven’t read Miss Pettigrew but loved ‘The Village’ by Marghanita Laski and ‘The Home maker’ by Dorothy Canield’. I Have ‘The fortnight in September’ by RC Sherrif on my shelf to read. Reading novels is a great way to avoid the football!

      • June 21, 2016 / 8:12 pm

        I enjoyed The Home Maker – Miss Pettigrew is light-hearted in comparison! I am in the middle of a Wallander addiction having picked up one of the books on holiday and yes a welcome escape from the football. It’s on TV as I write this!!

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