"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person." So Anne Tyler opens this irresistible new novel.
The woman is Rebecca Davitch, a fifty-three-year-old grandmother. Is she an impostor in her own life? she asks herself. Is it indeed her own life? Or is it someone else’s?
On the surface, Beck, as she is known to the Davitch clan, is outgoing, joyous, a natural celebrator. Giving parties is, after all, her vocation - something she slipped into even before finishing college, when Joe Davitch spotted her at an engagement party in his family’s crumbling nineteenth-century Baltimore row house, where giving parties was the family business. What caught his fancy was that she seemed to be having such a wonderful time. Soon this large-spirited older man, a divorcé with three little girls, swept her into his orbit, and before she knew it she was embracing his extended family plus a child of their own, and hosting endless parties in the ornate, high-ceilinged rooms of The Open Arms.
Now, some thirty years later, after presiding over a disastrous family picnic, Rebecca is caught un-awares by the question of who she really is. How she answers it - how she tries to recover her girlhood self, that dignified grownup she had once been - is the story told in this beguiling, funny, and deeply moving novel.
As always with Anne Tyler’s novels, once we enter her world it is hard to leave. But in Back When We Were Grownups she so sharpens our perceptions and awakens so many untapped feelings that we come away not only refreshed and delighted, but also infinitely wiser.
©2001 Anne Tyler (P)2012 Random House Audio
“You are involved before you even notice you were paying attention...Her feel for character is so keen that even hardened metafictionalists [who] would happily fry the whole notion of ‘character’ for breakfast are reduced to the role of helpless gossips, swapping avid hunches about the possible fates of the characters.” (Tom Shone, The New Yorker)
“Wise, kind, rueful and clear-eyed . . . and her truths are as gritty as earth and as interesting as the world.” (Amy Bloom, Elle)
“There’s not a flat line in this book . . . not a moment that isn’t tapped for all its glorious possibilities. This is storytelling at its best and most breathtaking.” (Beth Kephart, Book)
I don't think Anne Tyler could write a lousy book, but this wasn't one of my favorites. What she does so well is character development, and the characters are so interesting they can carry the story--as long is the story is at least mildly interesting. But in this book, both the story and characters were not as developed or as interesting as usual.
Worth a listen if you are a Tyler fan and have read/listened to everything else she's written but start with the excellent ones first: Spool of Blue Thread; Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant; The Accidental Tourist; The Armature Marriage, etc.
I have listened to some of Tyler's book that I previously read in print--Blair Brown is a very good narrator, but a couple of my favorite books have such an awful narrator (judging by the audio sample) that I won't torture my ears.
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