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The first sentence of Anne Tyler's 15th novel, Back When We Were Grown Ups, sounds like something out of a fairy tale: "Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person." Alas, this discovery has less to do with magic than with a late-middle-age crisis, which is visited upon Rebecca Davitch in the opening pages of the book. At 53, this perpetually agreeable widow is "wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a centre part". Given her role as the matriarch of a large family--and the proprietress of a party-and-catering concern, The Open Arms--Rebecca is both personally and professionally inclined towards jollity. But at an engagement bash for one of her multiple stepdaughters, she finds herself questioning everything about her life: "How on earth did I get like this? How? How did I ever become this person who's not really me?"
She spends the rest of the novel attempting to answer these questions--and trying to resurrect her former, extinguished self. Should she take up the research she began back in college, on Robert E Lee's motivation for joining the Confederacy? More to the point, should she take up with her college sweetheart who's now divorced and living within easy striking range? None of these quick fixes pans out exactly as Rebecca imagines. What she emerges with is a kind of radiant resignation, best expressed by 100-year-old Poppy on his birthday: "There is no true life. Your true life is the one you end up with, whatever it may be." A tautology perhaps but Tyler's delicate, densely populated novel makes it stick.
Yes, Poppy. There are also characters named NoNo, Biddy, and Min Foo--the sort of saccharine roll-call that might send many a reader scampering in the opposite direction. But Tyler knows exactly now to mingle the sweet with the sour and in Back When We Were Grownups she manages this balancing act like the old pro she is. Even the familiar backdrop--shabby-genteel Baltimore, which resembles a virtual game preserve of Tylerian eccentrics--seems freshly observed. Can any human being really resist this novel? It is, to quote Rebecca, "a report on what it was like to be alive," and an appealingly accurate one to boot. --James Marcus, Amazon.com
"Beautifully observed... Effortlessly brilliant" (Daily Telegraph)
"Like all great writers, Tyler creates her own world...she is that rare being: a writer so good that she lets you forget it. If you're one of the few who's yet to discover her, don't waste any more time: this ranks among her best" (Daily Mail)
"Superb... Beautifully conceived, masterfully executed... Out of the emotional confusions spawned by dislocated, dysfunctional families, Anne Tyler has produced - yet again - a scintillating comedy of manners" (Sunday Telegraph)
"Her touch, whether comic, wry or tragic, is as subtle as goose down... An insight bordering on genius... Tyler, of the fresh, almost conversational prose, sharp dialogue and all too much human truth, really is one of the wisest and most perceptive observers crafting fiction as life" (Irish Times)
"One of her very best" (Mail on Sunday) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
I have read several Anne Tyler books recently. This is definitely one of my favourites.Published 5 months ago by TwirlySue
I adored this book ! I've read it several times.The characters are warm, believable and genuinely likeable. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Jacquie
Excellent – this is Anne Tyler at her best. Introspection, brilliant characterisation and wry observations of everyday life. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Sue
I really couldn't put this book down. A wonderful and interesting story with good details and observations. I so loved this book.Published 21 months ago by Tilly
I bought this to read because it was the book club choice of the month. That is the only reason I managed to finish it. Not to my taste at all. There is no literary merit in it. Read morePublished 24 months ago by M J McCarthy
A delightful novel full of observances of people and their different ways of looking at their world. Read morePublished on 25 Sept. 2013 by Mary Hooper
Having only recently discovered Anne Tyler I find I can't read enough of her books. Who hasn't, at some point in their life, looked back and wondered 'What if I'd . . . . . . Read morePublished on 11 Mar. 2013 by jazzy2