NOAH'S COMPASS is not Anne Tyler's best work, or even her best recent work; it's less ambitious than Digging to America, not as funny as The Amateur Marriage. It is, though, an Anne Tyler novel—which means that it is thoughtful and compassionate and somehow makes the idea of getting old a little more palatable.
In Noah's Compass, Tyler creates a character that will be familiar to readers of her past work: Liam Pennywell is old and lives alone and is probably quite lonely, though he wouldn't describe himself that way. He's a bumbling bachelor, just retired from a career as a schoolteacher, and he's just moved into a small new apartment to quietly rot out his retirement. On his first night at the new place, he's robbed, assaulted, and knocked unconscious. When he wakes up, it's to realize that he remembers nothing of the robbery or the attack, a gap in his memory that begins to obsess him. But as Liam fixates on trying to recover the memories of the attack, other, more significant memories begin to surface: the suicide of his first wife; the collapse of his second marriage.
The lengths to which Liam goes in order to recover his memories strain credulity—he befriends the personal assistant of an aging businessman, a woman whose day job involves helping her boss remember things. It's a minor hitch, though, in what is otherwise, if not Tyler at her best, at least vintage Tyler.