I loved this book. Deeply ambivalent characters often read as cold or distant, but Anne Tyler's Charlotte is warm and immediately present, like a person sitting right next to me. Her story about becoming a housewife was so moving, even though the author keeps the tone light and breezy.
Which is probably for the best, because this portrayal of motherhood is not one we see often — or one we would now approve of (or ever admit to). We meet Charlotte while she is literally in the act of leaving her family. In telling her story, she reveals that she is neither fulfilled by them nor particularly attached to them. She feels caught by them, and while she observes their patterns of caring for each other, she fill her role without any emotional caring. She says, "So I survived. Baked their cakes. Washed their clothes. Fed their dog."
Oh Charlotte! It's true, they would be just fine without her. And so she leaves, which of course does not solve the problem.
I would have been able to give this book five stars if it had been longer, and if Charlotte hadn't just gone back to her family at the end! Honestly I was probably too emotionally invested in Charlotte by the time the kidnapping wrapped up, but I really really really did not want her to go back to her messy house with her messy kids and the messy dog and the messy strangers who keep coming to live with her. Is she going to just cook and clean up after them for the rest of her life? That's not what she wants! This broke my heart. Did anyone else have their heart broken by the end of this book?
Highly recommended, especially if you love ambivalent characters or women in their 30s who make a break for it.