Summary and book reviews of Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler

Back When We Were Grownups

by Anne Tyler

Back When We Were Grownups
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  • First Published:
    May 2001, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2002, 304 pages

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Book Summary

Rebecca, a fifty-three-year-old grandmother, is caught unawares by the question of who she really is. How she answers it--how she tries to recover her girlhood self, that dignified grownup she had once been--is the story told in this beguiling, funny, and deeply moving novel.

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person." So Anne Tyler opens this irresistible new novel.

The woman is Rebecca Davitch, a fifty-three-year-old grandmother. Is she an impostor in her own life? she asks herself. Is it indeed her own life? Or is it someone else’s?

On the surface, Beck, as she is known to the Davitch clan, is outgoing, joyous, a natural celebrator. Giving parties is, after all, her vocation--something she slipped into even before finishing college, when Joe Davitch spotted her at an engagement party in his family’s crumbling nineteenth-century Baltimore row house, where giving parties was the family business. What caught his fancy was that she seemed to be having such a wonderful time. Soon this large-spirited older man, a divorcé with three little girls, swept her into his orbit, and before she knew it she was embracing his extended family plus a child of their own, and hosting endless parties in the ornate, high-ceilinged rooms of The Open Arms.

Now, some thirty years later, after presiding over a disastrous family picnic, Rebecca is caught unawares by the question of who she really is. How she answers it--how she tries to recover her girlhood self, that dignified grownup she had once been--is the story told in this beguiling, funny, and deeply moving novel.

As always with Anne Tyler’s novels, once we enter her world it is hard to leave. But in Back When We Were Grownups she so sharpens our perceptions and awakens so many untapped feelings that we come away not only refreshed and delighted, but also infinitely wiser.

Chapter One

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

She was fifty-three years old by then--a grandmother. Wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part. Laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. A loose and colorful style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady.

Give her credit: most people her age would say it was too late to make any changes. What's done is done, they would say. No use trying to alter things at this late date.

It did occur to Rebecca to say that. But she didn't.




On the day she made her discovery, she was picnicking on the North Fork River out in Baltimore County. It was a cool, sunny Sunday in early June of 1999, and her family had gathered to celebrate the engagement of Rebecca's youngest stepdaughter, NoNo Davitch.

The Davitches' cars circled the meadow like covered wagons braced for attack. Their ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. "How on earth did I get like this?" wonders Rebecca at the start of the novel about the person she has become. Have you ever had a moment like this? Did you end up with the life you thought you would have?

  2. While many people thing longingly of the road not traveled, Rebecca decides to take it. Is this a good idea? If you were going to do so, what steps would you have to take?

  3. Do you think that Rebecca would have stayed with Will if she had not met Joe?

  4. Rebecca suggests to NoNo that "all of us love people at least partly for their usefulness." Do you agree?

  5. Do you think Min Foo is going to discard Hakim as she has her other husbands?

  6. Rebecca reflects that marriage leads to "knowing more than you should about the ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Packed with life in all its humdrum complexity--and funny, so funny, the kind that compels reading aloud. A masterful effort from one of our very best.

Book - The Magazine for the Reading Life -- Beth Kephart

This is storytelling at its best and most breathtaking. Tyler, an acknowledged master of the form, is living up to her well-earned reputation.

Publishers Weekly

The ease of her storytelling here is breathtaking, but almost unnoticeable because, rather like Rebecca, Tyler never calls attention to what she does.

Reader Reviews

Once upon a time

This is a wonderful book!!! Like many of Anne Tylers books it is not a piece of literature that requires a happy ending. Instead it is very real and very true to what would be considered "the real world". Truelly beautiful writing. I found ...   Read More

Catherine

I loved this book. One of Anne Tyler's best. The reader is immediately swept into Rebecca's life in much the same way as Rebecca herself is suddenly encompassed by the Davitch family. I like a novel where you are involved. I felt connected to the ...   Read More

Jenna

Interesting
I enjoyed the book. I read it for a school project, and I am happy that I chose this book. Tyler made the story come to life. I felt that I was right there standing next to her throughout the whole book. I coudn't wait to find out what would ...   Read More

Anonymous

The first chapter I thought I would never remember who everyone was, there were too many characters all thrown in at once - but after that I like the book but did hope for a happy ending.

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