Finished We 7/5/17 One of my trade paperbacks and part of a trilogy also containing THE CLOCK WINDER and SEARCHING FOR CALEB.
I loved CELESTIAL NAVIGATION. It's a haunting, and slightly depressing tale of life in a Baltimore boarding house from the early 1960's to the mid 70's based around the Pauling family.
It begins when Jeremy Pauling's mother dies, and his two sisters, Amanda and Laura, visit to see how he is coping. Jeremy is agoraphobic, probably somewhere on the autistic scale, and artistically inclined. He had been living with his mother almost as husband and wife, and they spent there days drinking cocoa and watching TV, only leaving the house when absolutely necessary.
Rooms are rented out to pay living expenses. A few older people and one medical student attending Johns Hopkins live in this row house in a declining section of the city of Baltimore.
Mary Tell and her daughter, Darcey move in. Mary has left her husband, Guy, to be with John Harris. Guy hates marry and will not give her a divorce and John is still married, and later his wife moves back in with him, yet he continues the affair with Mary. Mary is just as 'stuck' as Jeremy.
Jeremy falls in love with Mary and pledges his undying love. Mary is flabergasted and had no thoughts of romance, or even friendship, with Jeremy. However, I think that she continues with her flawed thinking- 'A' man is better than 'No' Man. Although they do not marry, she has five more children with Jeremy.
Jeremy started making two dimensional sketches, but branches out to textured works, and then sculptures. He uses bits and pieces of things lying around in the house.
Mildred Vinton is a woman who has lived in the house since Jeremy's mother was alive. This woman is from a large family and stayed on and watched over her mother as she was dying. Mildred loves the idea of 'privacy'. She only wants to be left alone so that she can finish a book with absolutely no distractions. She has found her true 'home' at the Pauling's townhouse.
Mildred is adept at 'reading' the people in the house, especially the relationship between Jeremy and Mary.
Mary has taken the children with her to live in a summer cabin owned by Jeremy's gallery owner, Brian O'donnell. Mary is finally free to mary Jeremy, but he is too distracted to fulfill her only true wish. Although, Mary is also 'free' to live her life outside of the undo influence of any other person, and she is thrilled with her independence. We don't really know the exact nature of their relationship at the end of the novel, but I think that both have more or less accepted the shortcomings of each other, and they continue to have some sort of nurturing relationship.
In an unbelievably heroic act (for Jeremy), he takes a bus across the city to visit his family at the cabin. To anyone else, it would be almost nothing, but Jeremy's life has been severely limited by his agoraphobia and this is a monumental achievement.
In the end, Mildred Vinton and Jeremy live in the house almost identically to the way that Jeremy lived with his mother at the beginning of the novel.
While researching the novel (I wanted to decide which of the trilogy to start) I learned that many of Tyler's books are set in the Baltimore area of Roland Park. This was the first 'planned community' or suburban development designed to follow the street car lines (1890). This section of Baltimore South-West of Towson is also where the first shopping center was built.
The book's page at wikipedia-