Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person,” Anne Tyler’s oldie-but-goodie begins, especially enhanced with the inimitable Blair Brown as welcome, familiar narrator. “How on earth did I get like this? How? How did I ever become this person who’s not really me?” the first chapter ends. At my age, that proves to be an irresistible opening![In an attempt to catch up with the backlogged to-be-added titles (how do I manage to fall so behind so regularly?), I’m going through some of Tyler’s bestselling 20 novels I’ve missed through the decades. While Breathing Lessons might be her most lauded (1989 Pulitzer), and The Accidental Tourist her best known (thanks to the Oscar-nominated William Hurt/Geena Davis 1988 film), some of her not-quite-household-name books might be among her best. Digging to America, I admit, is my favorite thus far. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant stuck in the ears was a caricatured disaster as read by Arthur Morey; interestingly enough, it’s been re-recorded twice more by Kerry Shale in 2009 and Suzanne Toren in 2010 – hope they finally got it right! More recently, both Noah’s Compass and The Amateur Marriage felt rather cranky and surprisingly dark. But, of course, I’ll keep reading.]
Oh, but I have digressed … Back to Rebecca Davitch, who is constantly surrounded by people. She inherited her mix-and-not-so-matched family when she abandoned college at age 20 to marry her older divorced husband with three young daughters. When he died suddenly just six years later in a car accident, she had four children to raise and still others to care for, including her husband’s late father’s widowed twin brother who came to visit and never left. To support the family, Rebecca took over the family business – opening the Open Arms, the family’s “ornate but crumbling nineteenth-century Baltimore row house,” for parties: “All of Life’s Occasions from the Cradle to the Grave, as their ad in the Yellow Pages put it.” Decades and decades later, she put on a welcoming face and took care of people – from relatives to relative strangers – with barely a second thought. Until … at the engagement party of one of her stepdaughters, she realizes “she had turned into the wrong person”; at 53, she’s about to discover who she really is, and who she wants to be …
The Talking Heads classic, “Once in a Lifetime,” pops up regularly on my life’s soundtrack: Like Rebecca, I regularly question, “How did I get here?”?!! As Rebecca explores her past to see where she might have made the wrong choice, chosen the wrong way, taken the opposite path, she realizes (not without difficulties, not without heartbreak) that she is right where she needs to be, being the person she always was, the wife/mother/grandmother/friend – the real Rebecca – she was meant to be.