Blue Glass

A 1992 New York Times Notable Book of the Year:
 New York Times Book Review: Families and Other Works in Progress By Jane Smiley

  “SANDRA TYLER’S lovely and unusual first novel, Blue Glass, follows the whole arc of an adolescent girl’s relationship with her mother as both change, as both disappoint each other and, finally, as both find a way to accept new lives. Ms. Tyler’s focus on Marion, the mother, and Leslie, the daughter, is steadily sympathetic but equally unblinking; neither is victim, neither is perpetrator. Of all the novel’s virtues, this is perhaps the rarest: an evenhanded understanding that illuminates both the particularity of the relationship and the universality of mother-and-daughter conflicts.

“Another virtue is Ms. Tyler’s narrative grace in handling the passage of time. As the novel opens, Leslie is driving with her mother and father, Dale, to the summer home of her mother’s sister’s family. Leslie is 10 years old and enamored of her mother, whose greatest pleasure is making everything an occasion. The author’s pacing is casual but lively; she manages to depict, economically and vividly, not only Leslie’s small family but also her aunt Holly’s larger one, and a little later, the grandparents’ deepening struggle with the grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease. Through ensuing chapters, she follows out the threads of these stories: Holly’s and Marion’s jealousies and insecurities, the completely believable breakup of Marion and Dale’s marriage, the disintegration of Leslie’s grandfather and, most delicately depicted, the failure, both annoying and poignant, of Marion’s self-esteem. Of course, Leslie, too, grows up, and Ms. Tyler is fully attentive to the social and psychological changes she goes through.”

 From Publishers Weekly:

“This strong, thoughtful first novel about a young girl and her changing relationship with her parents develops with quiet momentum beneath its cool, unadorned surface. Leslie Flynn’s pretty mother, Marion, oppresses her adolescent daughter and college professor husband, Dale, with her smothering love. Marion has few interests: she gardens, feeds birds and collects china ornaments. Fearing her husband’s love is ebbing, Marion prods him for reassurance, driving him to accuse her of ‘exhausting this entire family.’ 

“When Dale moves out into his own cramped apartment and starts to date an anthropologist colleague, Leslie’s coming-of-age crisis sharpens and she discovers, ‘It was easier now to be his friend than his daughter.’ As her own sexual needs intensify, she makes difficult choices. Simple details point up the family struggle to jettison the past. Before leaving, Dale cuts down Marion’s beloved ‘dead’ crabapple tree where birds nested, but green shoots reappear. Abject, now more neurotic than ever, Marion compulsively cleans house, hauling memorabilia to the dump. Leslie’s growing maturity leads at last to an affecting vision of her mother’s love, which may be ‘allowed to rest like a great lion in the shade of a tree.’ 

Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal:

“This first novel explores the turbulent interactions between a mother and her adolescent daughter. At first, Leslie Flynn worships her mother Marion, but when she gets older she finds that ‘I did wish she was different . . . and I wished I wasn’t so afraid of becoming just like her.’ Marion, who initially seems to have it all together, finally reveals insecurity that suggests this model family may not be as perfect as it seems. The author does an outstanding job of keeping the reader in suspense as to how it will all turn out; she also counterbalances the Flynns’ story with characters like Leslie’s Aunt Holly and her family. A good look at the quiet–and not-so-quiet–rebelliousness felt by every teenager. Recommended for all fiction collections, and possibly some older YA collections.”

– Vicki Cecil, Johnson Cty. Lib., Greenwood, Ind.

Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

“Sandra Tyler’s deadpan lyrical, remarkably accurate first novel, Blue Glass, concerns the coming of age of Leslie, an only child of divorcing parents. Her father, a college English teacher, withdraws and finds another woman, leaving teenaged Leslie in a world as claustrophobically feminine as that of William Inge’s Picnic. Whileit is a world presumably of the 1980s, it gains little support or relief from feminist assertions. The social class is middle, suburban, and literate.

Leslie’s primary role model is her mother, who tries to teach her the wonders of the everyday (“miracles. . . don’t have to be rare,” she says), and whose own power of imagination gives ultimate meaning to life, gives love, and lends the novel its title. “When I was pregnant,” Leslie hears her mother confide to a friend, “I couldn’t help seeing Leslie. She was in my mind’s eye . . .Kind of . . . like blue glass. Blue beach glass you find, soft and milky and blue around the edges.” Leslie by this point is rebellious and feels suffocated by the otherworldliness of her mother, but she’s touched by this revelation, concluding, “There were things I didn’t know about her. Things I might never know.” Leslie discovers her own power to create metaphors as a child, and the first-person narration of the adult Leslie is exact and figurative.

Sex, repressed by the mother, also dawns as a power in Leslie, as she experiences her first love and loss of virginity. Then, in one of the novel’s most powerful, subtly textured scenes, Leslie confronts the reality of her father’s love for her. “Why don’t you just come home?” she asks him. He replies, “Leslie, I can’t,” and at that moment, his separateness is wrenching: “A hope I hadn’t even known was there collapsed inside me.” Later, Leslie’s mother takes up with a suitor, Leonard, who surreptitiously propositions her, the daughter, and while this may seem more the stuff of an Electra complex than a credible development of plot, it pushes Leslie towards independence and resolves her relationship with her mother: “We’d become two women capableof attracting and being attracted to the same man. . . What we had now was more of an allegiance; we were two women faced with having no alternative but to redefine ourselves.”

This is a rich and importantly won first novel, a mother-and-daughter story parallel in power and insight to Theodore Weesner’s father-and-son classic, The Car Thief.

(DeWitt Henry, Ploughshares, 1992)

After Lydia

From Publishers Weekly:

“In this emotionally acute novel, Tyler (Blue Glass) questions whether family members ever truly know one another. It has been a year since Lydia, wife of an unambitious lawyer and mother of two adult daughters, was killed at a railroad crossing in her small Massachusetts town. Only her 27-year-old daughter Vickie, visiting to celebrate grandmother Ruth’s 80th birthday, dares suggest that Lydia might have committed suicide. While others call the death an accident, Vickie demands a truth of which she can never be certain. Tyler sure-handedly maps the interrelationships between Lydia’s survivors: Vickie, who strove to break free of her mother, then lost her completely; elder daughter Meryl, who envies Vickie’s single status and fears for her own rebellious children; neighbor Gail, who shared an intimate friendship and possibly a love affair with Lydia; and brother Warren, criticized for not attending his sibling’s funeral. Petty arguments break out, but days pass before the principals acknowledge their true emotions-any or all of them could have contributed to Lydia’s grief. Tyler’s drama, loaded with screenplay-friendly dialogue, proceeds smartly and stingingly. Lydia’s absence is tangible, and her family is lopsided without her: ‘It’s just this kinetic energy this family has, like we’re one big imploding star,’ Meryl observes. The characters do not learn whether Lydia took her own life, but as they search their memories, Tyler deftly taps their sense of regret.”

Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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