Back When We Were Grownups — Review by Carole

This was my first Anne Tyler book, and I bought it to read because I was fascinated by the premise. What if we could go back and choose a different path in life? I’m not talking about time travel here, but rather about evaluating how you got to this point in your life and whether you have become the person you thought were.

In Grownups, Tyler presents us with Rebecca Davitch, a 53-year-old woman who is questioning how she came to be the wrong person. In her own mind, Rebecca is a quiet, studious wallflower, but to her boisterous family, she is the matriarch who runs the family party business and who everyone turns to for advice. She even questions why they call her “Beck”, when prior to becoming a Davitch, she was always Rebecca.

A widow for some time, Rebecca has raised her three stepdaughters (NoNo, Biddy, and Patch) and her own daughter (Min Foo); she also now has son-in-laws of quite varied backgrounds with whom she has good relationships. These marriages have produced several grandchildren and step-grandchildren for Rebecca as well. The unusual nicknames serve to illustrate the differences between the Davitches and herself.

Her husband died six years into their marriage, and she while she has taken care of her family, she begins to question her role in it. What if she hadn’t been swept off her feet and married her husband? What if she had stayed with Will, her steady college beau? What if she had pursued her promising career as a researcher? She actually makes a few forays into answering these questions, but the results are never quite what she expects.

Tyler employs a device that I always enjoy in novels—we get to see things that the main character does not. While Rebecca is questioning how in the world she ended up where she is, we readers see that actually she is the very center of her family. Her presence there in the Davitch home and business is essential to their lives.

Rebecca also cares for Poppy, her husband’s 99-year-old uncle, whose sole focus is on the plans for his 100th birthday. His birthday toast is one that will stay with me for some time. It’s remarkable that Rebecca has so many relationships to people with whom she does not share a blood tie.

In contrast, we also get to meet Rebecca’s rather staid mother and colorful aunt, and through them, we get some insights into Rebecca’s growing up years.

Rebecca could have come across as a middle-aged woman going through a mid-life crisis, but Tyler deftly creates a world in which we come to care about the character and can in fact see the value of asking these questions.

As Rebecca takes this self-discovery journey, you want her to see how loved she is by those around her and to be happy that she in fact did become the person she is.

Not a life-changing book, but a library read I enjoyed with characters I’m glad I got to meet. I understand Hallmark made a movie of this a few years ago—I’ll have to check it out.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I've long meant to read Anne Tyler, and this encourages me to do so. I thought I'd start with Breathing Lessons, but you've changed my mind.