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Monday, April 15, 2024


Back When We Were Grownups
by Anne Tyler
Alfred A. Knopf, 274 pp, $25

We are enveloped in one big security blanket from the family picnic on page one until the hundred-year-old birthday party at the end of "Back When We Were Grownups." The heroine, Rebecca Davitch, is the hub around which this lovable bear of a family revolves, and she controls the sparks and the glow it sends forth.
The Davitch Open Arms is a very large row house in Baltimore, and for years it has provided a living for its family by hosting parties, receptions, galas of all types and sizes. Its 14-foot ceilings and crystal chandeliers provide a gracious setting for brides, retirees and new babies; the flowers, the candles, the champagne add bravos.
We meet and get to know each family member. They are spread, peanut butter and jelly style, over three generations in every imaginable connection. Being a part of these busy goings-on never gets tiresome, the mood a mix of festive, funny and sad as old family movies bring back long-gone aunts and uncles smiling and grimacing in the sunlight.
Rebecca, widowed for many years, finds herself wondering what a different life she might be living if she had chosen to take another path, another love. Which of us has not looked back to that time when all life lay before us, and wondered "What if…?" Not many have a chance to take actual steps to explore those vanished possibilities, but Rebecca makes the telephone call to set it all in motion. Like a pinball machine, each action starts lights flashing, gongs and whistles going off, as we watch and wonder.
Each member of this big, buxom family affects all the others. Imagine a wondrous cake being mixed, with each ingredient adding its own kick to the outcome and the cook loving it all.
Anne Tyler bewitches us into seeing each of the Davitches as someone we know, and his or her interests become ours. It's a happy time when we can pick them up and find out what's happening, what's for dinner, and who's stirring up a ruckus for Rebecca to settle. We feel a part of this inner circle that loving families invented.
Swept along by the festivities and concerned about Rebecca's new decisions needing to be settled, one never feels like an outsider looking in. Indeed, turning the last page brings on a sadness saying goodbye to a lusty bunch that will be going on without us.
Tyler bundles us up into this bustling family's life, and it's all over much too soon. Reading slowly makes it last a little longer. I recommend doing so.
"Back When We Were Grownups" is available at Dockside Bookshop in Havensight Mall on St. Thomas. To check out other Dockside favorites, click here.

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