Breathing Lessons

Breathing Lessons


Meet Maggie Moran. Nearing fifty and married with two children, she and her husband drive from Baltimore to Deer Lick to attend the funeral of a friend one hot summer day.

During the course of the journey, with its several unexpected detours into the lives of old friends and grown children, Maggie’s eternal optimism and her inexhaustible passion for sorting out other people’s lives and willing them to fall in love is severely tested…

Our Review

This is the first book I have read by Anne Tyler and I found her style of writing very appealing and highly readable.

This book tells the story of Ira and Maggie Moran, a married couple driving to the funeral of an old friend. However, the story is really much more than that. It is about the minutiae of married life when you have been married for 28 years. It is about the things that drive them to distraction about each other and the things that make them fall in love all over again.

The characters are what made this book such a delight to read. The first part of the book is written from the perspective of Maggie Moran and the second part is written from Ira Moran’s point of view. I found that this style of writing helped me to identify with the characters more easily than if it had been narrated in the third person.

The book begins with Maggie and Ira Moran getting ready to go to a funeral in Deer Lick, Pennsylvania. Maggie’s childhood friend, Serena, has recently lost her husband and it is his funeral they are attending. Ira didn’t want to go because he didn’t want to miss work but Maggie insisted because of her close friendship with Serena.

She and Serena had been friends forever. Or nearly forever: fourty-two years, beginning with Miss Kimmel’s first grade.

Maggie Moran comes across as very scatty, and a little bit of a busybody. She appears to mean well but is the kind of person that people could easily find irritating.

Maggie gets into a minor car accident as she is listening to someone on the radio talking about their upcoming marriage, someone she believes to be her ex-daughter in law Fiona. The lady is describing how she married for love the first time but it didn’t work out and now she is marrying for security. Maggie is certain that Fiona is implying that she is still in love with Maggie’s son Jesse. She becomes distracted and that is when the accident happens and Maggie just drives off because the only damage is to her car.

Maggie tells Ira she will pay for the damage from her own wages but Ira laughs this suggestion off.  Her salary was laughable. She tended to old people in a nursing home.

Whilst they are driving to Deer Lick Maggie reflects on Ira’s stoic personality. There were times when Ira didn’t say a dozen words all day, and even when he did talk you couldn’t guess what he was feeling. But what he failed to realize was, his whistling could tell the story.

Ira watched his mother suffer before she died and as a result he doesn’t like any mention of illness or death. We learn this in Ira’s part of the story but Maggie doesn’t connect the two things and only sees his reluctance to accept someone is ill.

“How peculiar he was about death! He couldn’t handle even minor illness…Any hint that he wouldn’t live forever – when he had to deal with life insurance, for instance – made him grow set-faced and stubborn and resentful. Maggie, on the other hand, worried she would live forever – maybe because of all she’d seen at the home.

And if she were the one who died first, he would probably pretend that that hadn’t happened, either. He would probably just go on about his business, whistling a tune the same as always. What tune would he be whistling?”

On the drive Maggie becomes obsessed with stopping in on Fiona and their granddaughter. Ira points out that they can’t just show up unannounced and that it probably wasn’t even Fiona on the radio. Ira and Maggie begin to argue and Maggie starts thinking about how she could live without him.

I liked reading about the beginning of their relationship and how Ira and Maggie first began to drift towards each other. It was funny and heart-warming and it was easy to see why the author chose to have Maggie feeling herself fall back in love with Ira after remembering how they got together.

The parts of the story from Ira’s point of view were probably my favourite because of their lack of dram and the simple statements of facts.

“He was fifty years old and had never accomplished one single act of consequence…His son, who couldn’t carry a tune, had dropped out of high school in hopes of becoming a rock star. His daughter was one of those people who fritter themselves away on unnecessary worries, she chewed her fingernails to nubbins and developed blinding headaches before exams and agonised so over her grades that their doctor had warned of ulcers.

And his wife! He loved her, but he couldn’t stand how she refused to take her own life seriously. She seemed to believe it was a sort of practice life.”

I would definitely read more books by this author.


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Our Rating

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