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Back When We Were Grownups Hardcover – 1 Jun 2001

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (1 Jun. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 070117286X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701172862
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 170,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Breathing Lessons and many other bestselling novels, including The Accidental Tourist, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, A Patchwork Planet, Back When We Were Grownups, The Amateur Marriage, Digging to America and The Beginner's Goodbye. In 1994 she was nominated by Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby as 'the greatest novelist writing in English' and in 2012 she received the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence, which recognises a lifetime's achievement in books. Her most recent novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, was a Sunday Times bestseller and shortlisted for both the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize 2015.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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,


"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.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 Jun. 2001
Format: Hardcover
Anne Tyler has the rare ability to map both the deepest and most fleeting cares of the human heart, without ever descending into mawkishness. She is incapable of writing a line that doesn't ring with emotional truth. This novel's protagonists are ageing with their author- the fulcrum around which the entire bickering cast revolves is Rebecca, a 53 year old widow, who has spent thirty years raising and supporting her dead husband's children, and mopping up after the 99 year old uncle living in the attic. Their casual acceptance of her role has finally led her to question whether she is, in fact, living the life she was destined to live which, she believes is one of bookish restraint, rather than the boisterous, party-throwing frenzy it has become. Her quest for the truth about herself brings her back to the boyfriend she rejected in high school, and forces her to wonder whether, as Uncle Poppy says, "your true life is the one you're living." I couldn't feel empathy with anyone who didn't respond to Anne Tyler's masterly writing, in this case,crafted with the art that conceals art, into an eminently readable, infinitely wise meditation on ageing, family, and self-awareness. All this, and funny too.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Dec. 2001
Format: Hardcover
this book is a return to the high standard set by the author's earlier books. Once you are over the 1st chapter or 2, and have worked out who is who, it is a wonderful read, warm, compassionate, amusing, and hopeful for the future. I heaved a sigh of relief when she dumped the boyfriend from the past - I don't think that this was unkind, just self preservation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By smartesthorse on 16 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
How fickle indeed is fate, how easily we all could have taken another path, missed meeting a man by looking away for five seconds, stayed in, instead of going out one night..a whole life could have gone by a different way, frighteningly easily, a different partner, different children, what if?

Rebecca is middle aged, spreading comfortably and the lynch pin of her family at their beck and call round the clock, rut isn't a big enough word for what she is stuck in. Once she was young and had dreams of splendid things, she had a boyfriend Will, comfortable, reliable, THERE, and then what?

With startling, frightening, speed and judder, she runs off with dashing Joe, a widower with three daughters, a love match for sure, but curtailed abruptly when he dies leaving her with his three girls and another born to them both. Rebecca gets on with it, raises them all,nurtures then all, together with other variously dysfunctional family members until suddenly they are all grown up and where is she? Puzzled, yes, resentful, yes quite a bit and then the big question WHAT IF?
At this late stage Rebecca embarks on trying to reroute herself on her original path, the way she would have gone if she had stuck with good old Will the guy she went around with 'Back when they were grown ups'

The results are bitter sweet, often hilarious, I particularly recommend the scene when Will and Rebecca first meet again and Will struggles with a menu!

There is a very large supporting cast here, this does NOT detract form the power of the book. The bit players are not sketchy and unnecessary they are all beautifully drawn and combine to form a delicious family mosaic.
Not incredibly well known in the UK Anne Tyler is a very remarkable writer and this is one of her most enjoyable books.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 19 Sept. 2002
Format: Paperback
Anne Tyler has an amazing, almost unique, ability to write about banal, everyday life whilst remaining hugely entertaining. This book is driven almost exclusively by the characters rather than the plot, yet is not stale or tedious for a second. The comings and goings of the extended family and their relationships with one another are a constant source of amusement, entertainment and concern in perfectly measured doses.
I read this whole book in one day as I couldn't bear to tear myself away from the inexplicably compelling story. I was left with a warm feeling of contentment. If I had to liken this book to a food, I would describe it as warm apple pie with brown sugar. Appealing, homely and comforting, yet naughty enough to keep you excited.
If you've never read Anne Tyler before, this is a perfect introduction.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Aug. 2002
Format: Hardcover
I, too, am an avid fan of Anne Tyler's books having read nearly all of them now. The quality of her later work is consistently excellent - until this one, which I feel lacks something. Yes, the names did drive me round the bend, but I also got irritated with the bickering family and with Rebecca's tolerance of their treatment of her.
I liked the plot that dealt with her failed attempt to re-kindle an old relationship which I found plausible and well-written. I also sympathised with her reflections on what life is all about (a deeply philosophical sub-plot in fact) and whether she had lived the life she meant to. I think what she discovered is that, like most of I suspect, she felt she could have done more with her life, and yet ultimately it had been fulfilling.
Anne Tyler has a wonderful way with words - I know of no writer who is better with similes and metaphors, and she has an unparalleled ability to exactly capture a gesture, a reaction, a look even, in a few well-chosen words. But still I was not sorry to finish this book. To me her best novels remain Saint Maybe, A Patchwork Planet, and Breathing Lessons.
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