Book review – Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler
Title – Back When We Were Grownups
Genre – Literary Fiction
Author – Anne Tyler
First published – 2001
Edition reviewed – 2002 (Vintage)
Enjoyment rating – 8/10
There are no spoilers in this review
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The novel starts with the sentence, “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”
The woman is fifty-three-year-old Rebecca Davitch, and the whole novel is constructed around this opening sentence. Rebecca wants – needs, even – to know whether the insight is true, and, if it is, what she can do about it.
She seems to be a joyous and extroverted person. Her late husband, Joe Davitch, had owned a large and rather distinguished house that he used as the basis of a business hosting parties; all sorts of parties, from children’s birthday parties to wedding anniversary parties.
“I was very different as a young woman,” thinks Rebecca. “I was quiet and serious. That was the real me.” How had she become such an outgoing person?
Everything had changed when she jilted her studious fiancé in favour of a whirlwind romance leading to marriage to Joe. The novel’s plot is based on Rebecca’s efforts to understand this event. This is worked through carefully and with insight.
There aren’t any sub-plots as such, but Rebecca’s daily life constantly intrudes on her search for understanding and fulfilment. Such is the quality of the writing that every scene from Rebecca’s life tells us more about her character, and more about her true nature.
The novel concludes with a ‘set piece’ of writing, which is an absolute tour de force. It’s an inspired way of finishing the story of Rebecca’s quest. It takes place in the midst of a party (where else?) and it sets the emotional tone perfectly. It’s satisfying, it’s beautiful, and it’s moving. It’s marvellously crafted, and I admire the hell out of it!