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Back When We Were Grownups
By Anne Tyler

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Back When We Were Grownups

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Back When We Were Grownups
Large Print Edition
By Anne Tyler
Random House Large Print, (2001)
ISBN: 0-375-43118-7
Genre: Fiction, general

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - May 24, 2001

Rebecca Davitch is a 53-year-old professional party giver, a grandmother, and the matriarch of the Davitch clan. Beck, as she is called by the family, is a gregarious woman upon whom everyone relies. As a young woman, she jilted her fiance, threw away a promising academic career, and married Joe. At the time, Joe was a divorced, with three young daughters, a neurotic mother, and a floundering business - the Open Arms.

The Open Arms is both the family business and the family home. Parties are thrown on the first floor, while the family lives on the second. The Open Arms engulfed Rebecca. Before she fell under its spell, she was a shy, intellectually oriented women who had her whole life planned out. She was going to finish college, marry her fiance, and pursue a quiet life as an academic's wife while also pursuing her own academic interests. The Open Arms changed everything.

On her very first visit to The Open Arms, as a mere guest, she fell under its spell. In short order she found herself transformed from Rebecca into Beck. The change in names mirrored the change in her personality and the new direction that her life was to take. Without conscious effort, she was sucked into the business and the family. She found herself handling the bulk of the business and acting as a 'happy' facilitator at those parties that needed a little help in maintaining the proper party spirit. She raised Joe's three girls as a matter of course, and took over responsibility for the extended family from Joe's mother. She also bore Joe a daughter, just before his untimely death in an auto accident. As a young widow, her life continued with a momentum of its own. That is until the day Beck paused for a moment, when she was 53, and pondered the notion that she wasn't who she ought to be.

In Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler has crafted a unique coming of age tale. This novel follows Beck on her voyage of self-discovery and self -realization. Along the way Beck mulls over the 'what ifs' and 'what might yet be'. She even takes the drastic step of contacting the fiance she jilted 30 years before, in an attempt to resurrect Rebecca, the woman Beck once was. With humor and a realistic dialogue, Tyler ushers you into Beck's world, allowing you to see Beck as she sees herself.

This novel is peopled with a vivid cast of characters ranging from Poppy, Beck's 99-year-old uncle-in-law, with whom she lives, to Will Allenby, her chili eating ex-fiance. The members of Beck's eccentric family also include her uniquely nicknamed stepdaughters, NoNo, Patch, and Biddy, and her natural daughter, Min Foo. The writing is warm and friendly. The novel is amusing, although it is melancholy at times. This, however, is to be expected in a novel that is mostly retrospective in nature. Beck is looking back over her life, reliving her past joys and sorrows, and judging how her life has turned out. Everyone has regrets in life. This is the crux of this novel - do we let the 'what might have beens' rule our existence, or do we concentrate on the joys we have and simply muddle on?

I cannot say that I agree with all the choices Beck makes in this novel. Throughout I found myself rooting that Beck would be just a little bit selfish, and do what was best for her; rather than for the family she had carried for so many years by the sheer strength of her spirit and personality. You'll have to read the book to find out the choices that Beck makes about her future, and what, in the end, she really thinks about the choices that she has made in her life. Most important, Tyler has Beck answer the question "Who have I turned into?" In the end, this is a question that you may find that you are asking of yourself...

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