It’s time for my first August Anne Tyler 2021 project and I finished it yesterday – oops! Interesting fact, though: this must have been the book that I had just acquired when I claimed to my then friend, soon to be boyfriend, now husband Matthew that Tyler was, well I’m going to say ONE OF my favourite authorS, given the date inside the front cover. So I’m pleased that, while as usual remembering nothing of it, I absolutely loved this one. Oh and this is the first of my QPD Tylers, visible in the pile combining the frailty of a paperback with the size of a hardback …

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “Back when we were Grownups”

(05 July 2001, Quality Paperbacks Direct)

She loved these children, every last one of them. They had added more to her life than she could have imagined. But sometimes it was very tiring to have to speak in her grandma voice. (p. 49)

We open with Rebecca at a picnic, wondering how she came to be who she is. Who she is now: a 53 year old larger woman, a mother, stepmother and grandmother, widow, carer and party-giving company owner with a penchant for flowery and embroidered clothes and a good relationship with her many tradesmen. But her life sort of split off when she met a man at the very party venue she now hosts, the bottom floor of one of those run-down terraced houses in Baltimore that most Tyler books are set in, chucked her high-school boyfriend, flunked out of university and joined his huge and ramshackle family.

The complicated Tyler family is in full flood in this one (three stepdaughters and a daughter, each with a partner of some sort and children, plus her late father-in-law’s 99 year old brother and her late husband’s younger brother and a family retainer who ends up being invited to as many parties as she helps clean up after). Because Rebecca, Beck to her family, has got into the habit of hosting parties for every family occasion, coming out with a rhyme for each, the backbone of a family who, as is often the case, take her for granted. Could she walk out of this life, she wonders, as the phone rings again? (No). Could she move back to her home town and her bickering mother and aunt? (But she knows no one there now). Can she find her way back to where her life path split? (Sort of, but does she want to?).

There’s no sloppy one here, just the organised one who keeps everything going. We get glimpses of the routines that held other Tyler characters together, from the man who dresses his son in tomorrow’s clothes for bed to the man who makes a batch of the same dinner every Sunday to feed himself through the week. But things are more nuanced now, and those are only glimpses (maybe she’s saying women don’t go like this as it does tend to be the men). Other Tyler standards are a weedy child of a new partner, a family house that’s subsumed an incomer.

In “Patchwork Planet” we noticed the book was dedicated to Tyler’s late husband and this novel is in part a meditation on grieving, with old uncle Poppy constantly reciting the verse he wrote for his wife’s funeral and Rebecca musing on her loss of Joe, only six years into their marriage. This is made more poignant by knowing the background, even though I don’t usually need to know the background.

Will Rebecca find herself and indeed reclaim her name (one family member does use it, we note)? Will Poppy make it to his 100th birthday? Will Rebecca trace that old boyfriend? But most importantly again, will she reclaim herself? A lovely novel, full of characters and colour, little moments of observation, and also very funny.

Have you read this one? What did you think?