20 July 2007

Review—Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler

Rebecca Davitch discovers that she has become the wrong person in the wrong life. How did a bookish introvert become a party planner? Step-mother of three, biological mother of one, and a widow, at 53, Rebecca hits her mid-life crisis. Once an only child engaged-to-be-engaged to a quiet and organized college student, Rebecca is now the matriarch of a half-crazy family, holding them together despite their squabbles. Once a “serene and dignified young woman,” her role in the family forces her to act with a jollity and borderline silliness that ill-becomes who she should have been.

This book is about second chances and belonging, which, aside from Tyler’s ability to create loveable yet dysfunctional characters that make you want to hug them and slap them, made me love the book. If you’ve ever wondered about that fork-in-the-road decision, if you’ve ever thought about starting over, if you’ve ever considered trying again at love or questioned your place in your family, you’ll understand Rebecca. As typical with Anne Tyler, it’s the little quirky things about the characters, flawlessly consistent throughout the book and seemingly unbelievable, that make the characters real. And her prose flows like the gurgling brook that Rebecca is drawn to. As a writer, I must know, how does her prose read naturally and beautifully and poetic while a book I attempted before this one jolted and coughed like a car on its final outing? I guess I’ll have to keep reading to figure this one out.


laurie said...

i loved this book.

if you like anne tyler, you might also like lee smith. try "my fair and tender ladies" or "the last girls."

though i think her best book is her most recent--"an agate hill." a bit dark, but wonderful.

Jen N said...

I've always thought this book looked good, but haven't picked it up yet. Now that you've given it a good review, I want to read it even more!

laurie said...

re "ulysses"--i only understand some of the allusions, too. what keeps me going is the enjoyment of the few parts i do understand, and the occasional flash at recognizing an allusion and how cool that feels ("do i contradict myself? very well; i contradict mysefl").

that and sheer grit. i'm on about page 300. i'm not even halfway done.

Jennifer Tiszai said...

I listened to it on CD and really enjoyed it. And when I thought about how many characters there were it was amazing that I could keep them all straight. But they are all quirky and different enough to be distinct.

Christianne said...

I'm REALLY GLAD you posted this review. I read Saint Maybe in college and loved it very much. I then tried to move on to this one and couldn't get past the first few pages. I had no idea what was trying to be going on. Your short review here mapped it all out for me, and now I want to know these characters. (I couldn't get myself to care about them when I tried to read it -- maybe three times now? -- before.) Again, thanks.

Pamela said...

wow... so many books so little time.

But as for the questions: yes.. I'd love to just quit my job and do something entirely different the last 10 years before I retire. Do I have the guts? I better read what she did first.