Delia, short for Cordelia, is the central character of Anne Tyler's Ladder Of Years. As usual for Anne Tyler, Delia is a Baltimore resident, a wife, a mother and probably, at least from the outside, a pillar of strength and dependability in both family and community. The children are growing up. Which children don't? Bet then it's how they grow up that matters, isn't it? Sam, the husband, is doing moderately well. Moderate seems to be the word, as far as Sam is concerned. He's hardly made a success of the business he inherited from Delia's father, but the family survives to inhabit a middle class, rather liberal niche in the common psyche. As Ladder Of Years opens, the family is holidaying by the sea and Delia is dressed, mentally, for the beach.
And then, without warning, even to herself, she takes off. Just like that, whatever "that" might be. She absconds. Goes missing. Disappears. There's suspicion of drowning. A report appears in a Baltimore paper. The family fears she has come to harm. But no, she hasn't. In fact, still dressed for the beach she is heading off to a place she doesn't know with a stranger. It's no particular stranger, just a stranger.
Quite soon, and with new clothes, a new address and a changed life, Delia takes on a new identity. Though Baltimore wife and mother still lives in her head, she's become a new Delia, single, independent and employed. In this new guise, she inter-reacts with her new community and gradually becomes part of it. Why did she leave the apparent safety, security and responsibility of her family? Not even she can answer.
What slowly begins to emerge, however, is that Delia's choice of opting out becomes increasingly one of opting in. By degree the characters in her new life start to become more demanding. Without needing to state everything explicitly, they start to assume Delia's support and claim reliance upon her. She, of course, responds and finds that she now has two levels of responsibility created out of the demands of her new life and continued contact with her family. Interestingly, Delia, this pillar of support, never feels either at home or secure in either role.
And so it is via this scenario of identity change, relationships of dependency, insecure self-image, alongside a fixation of demand that Anne Tyler relates how Delia's life unfolds. Delia notices a lot about people, but she's no great analyst. Surely she's the type to apologise before expressing an opinion, but would harbour unspoken bigotries like the rest of us. At the start of the book she seems confused. By the end, a few more rungs along the ladder of life, she apparently remains so. Perhaps the ladder is horizontal ... and with irregular spacing... But then Delia has little time to consider such arcane ideas. After all, there are things to do, people to talk to, arrangements to be made, jobs to be done...