Ben Joe Hawkes is the only male in a family of many sisters. He worries about his sisters and mom a lot but they seem to be doing fine without him. This book opens with Ben Joe off at college and kind of depressed as well as anxious about changes in his family; he heads home and the story takes place over a short period of time while he’s staying back at home. We find out a lot about Ben Joe and his dad (who’s no longer around), but the women all stay rather mysterious. It’s a shame, because most of them seem quite intriguing.
This book was written over fifty years ago, and it does have a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it. It is gentle and easy, in a kind of odd way. Maybe because all of the tropes are so familiar, so there’s no challenge. Everyone is white and straight and believes roughly the same things about relationships and manners and how people should move through the world. The one exception ends up getting smoothed down (look: no real spoiler, though!).
I like Tyler’s writing style, especially her dialogue. This is a sad and yet pleasant book. I mean, maybe it’s just me who finds it kind of sad how people are so constrained by all the unspoken societal expectations and norms that pressure them into certain acts, but in this book they seem so inevitable that the sadness is there but in a kind of resigned way, if that makes sense.
I’m always curious as to why a woman writer would choose a male protagonist. But the more I think about this book, the more it feels like Ben Joe is totally steered by the choices the women around him are making. He’s not the kind of person who really puts his foot down much, while the women in the book seem to have more direction (even though that direction is pretty traditional).
If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler. 1964. ISBN 0425098834.