Back When We Were Grownups
By Anne Tyler
(Ballantine Books, Mass Market Paperback, 9780345477248, 336pp.)
Publication Date: October 26, 2004
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"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.
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis in 1941 but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. This is Anne Tyler’s fifteenth novel;
her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore.
“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 magazine
“Tyler’s eye and ear for familial give and take is unerring, her humanity irresistible. You’ll want to turn back to the first chapter the moment you finish the last.”
–Linnea Lannon, People