Back When We Were Grownups

by Anne Tyler

Hardcover, 2001

Call number




Alfred A. Knopf (2001), Edition: 1st, 273 pages


"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 un-awares 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member mhgatti
Anne Tyler has officially become my sure-fire go-to novelist. If I go into the library and don’t find anything interesting on the “New Arrivals” wall, I know I can’t go wrong picking up one of Tyler’s novels. Lucky for me my branch has plenty of her books.

That’s not to say that
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Tyler’s writing is predictable. Yeah, most likely the book is going to center on an introspective member of a Baltimore family, but from there her books have all gone in different directions. The direction that 2001’s Back When We Were Grownups takes is asking, “What if?”

Rebecca Davitch is a fifty-something “professional party-thrower” whose life has become bogged down with the problems of grown children and stepchildren, grandchildren and step-grandchildren (maybe even a step-step-grandchild?), and an aging brother- and uncle-in-law. All the while having to keep up the cheery persona expected of someone who throws parties for a living.

But what if Rebecca hadn’t dropped her boring-but-steady college beau from the good side of town for the older and more blue-collar Joe and his three daughters from his first marriage? Back then Joe’s extended family - and the catering service they ran out of their townhouse - seemed like the more interesting future. Shortly after having their first kid together, though, Joe is killed in a car accident and forces Rebecca to take on a family, a business, and an outgoing personality that she’s now not sure ever really fit her. What if she was never meant for this life? What if she could go back and pick the other guy?

This isn’t some complicated alternate-universe Sliding Doors/Star Trek sci-fi thing. In fact the story isn’t very complicated at all. Tyler gently and quietly waltzes through this tale of regret and possible reinvention. Life - and its joys, demands, and traditions - continues as usual, so Rebecca’s looking back happens as it would in real life – mainly when she has time for it.

Tyler’s family storytelling is so good that the fact that so many pages are spent on daily events doesn’t hurt the novel. The woman who won the Pulitzer for Breathing Lessons - which took place entirely during a weekend car ride - doesn’t need to beat you over the head with the plot, instead preferring to let it seep into the everyday.

That said, this was probably the Tyler novel I least enjoyed (and all that means is that it would only get four stars from me instead of a full five). The story introduces so many peculiar family members that it sometimes is hard to remember what peculiarities goes with which child. And while I don’t think a good novel has to tie up every little loose end, this book, more than any other of Tyler’s I’ve read, seems to end a few pages short.

These are minor complaints, though. Nothing that would stop me from picking up yet another Tyler book the next time I’m in need of a sure-fire winner of a novel.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
When I told my father I had just finished reading an Anne Tyler novel, he described exactly the plot without even knowing which title I had read: It was set in Baltimore, about a large, dysfunctional family with some eccentric quirks, and not very much happens. I realized that this was not only an
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apt summary of BWWWG but also every Tyler novel I have ever read. There are those writers who write one book and know they are done, and then there are those who write the same book over and over but never realize it.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Anne Tyler has her finger on the pulse of humanity. She creates unforgettable characters that live on long after the book is finished. In this novel, Rebecca questions who she has become and how her life might have been different had she chosen a different fork in the road. As a young widow who has
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now grown comfortably into middle age, Rebecca is the heart and soul of her extended family, the Davitches; and becomes the heart and soul of the novel. Her journey to "the fork in the road" and back will make you laugh and cry at the same time. Wonderful book.
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LibraryThing member arouse77
hazy indistinct snapshot of a woman in the midst of family chaos. no real sympathy for this heroine emerges. the fact that she lets her entire brood trample all over her without the least regard tends to evoke the same tendency in me as a reader. i was plowing through without really paying
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attention and mainly came away feeling ambivilent about the experience as a whole.
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
This book starts up with this first line: Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. A book that starts like that, is a book you want to read. I've spent the week chauffeuring my father back and forth to cancer treatments, and I've heard a lot of family
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stories. This wonderfully quirky book is pure Anne Tyler, and one of my favorites. This must be the third time I've read it because it always puts my family, and my role in the family, back into perspective for me. A wonderful book, and a must read for anyone over the age of 50.
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LibraryThing member aprille
I loved this book. It grapples with the difference between who you believe yourself to be and the self you present to others, and makes a strong case that the self you present (through your actions) is actually more real. The main character perceives herself as a shy, intelligent studious girl, who
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married and took on a step-family who expected her to be constantly cheerful, outgoing and socially adept. After she's widowed and her family is grown, she needs to decide if that who she wants to continue to be, or if she wants to change.

My favorite parts of this book were her interior dialogs about how much effort it requires to cheerfully take care of other people, and listen, and appreciate them, and yet how worthwhile it is to do it.
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LibraryThing member mloughlin
Brilliant read for the middle aged woman
LibraryThing member sarahlouise
This audio is not one to listen to again and again. I'll probably pick up the book one of these days, though. Blair Brown is a great reader, but it's a melancholy story. I remember listening to this as I turned the bend on Elfinwild onto Rte 8 in Shaler.
LibraryThing member kellynasdeo
I hated this book. It felt contrived with the ridiculous names of the characters. I felt like I was reading something written by a 12 year old.
LibraryThing member DSlongwhite
Sandy gave me this book for my birthday and I loved it. At the age of 53, Rebecca Davitch discovers she has become the wrong person. She married Joe Davitch at the age of 19. He had three young daughters. Their mother had walked out seeking a career as a singer. Within a few years, Joe died in a
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car accident and Rebecca is left to raise the girls and care for her husband's uncle.

She cares for this people by continuing to run the business her mother-in-law started and then her husband ran - The Open Arms. It is a business that hosts parties. They own an old home in Baltimore and open the rooms for parties.

Rebecca decides to contact her old boyfriend, Will Allenby. She had know Will her whole life and everyone assumed they would get married.
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LibraryThing member hammockqueen
I was disappointed in this book by one of my fav. authors. It just didn't seem to go anywhere. Rebecca took care of people including her dad, pappa who turns 100 in the book and wants a party. She gives party as an occupation. Her old boyfriend surfaces, Will, and he's pretty dorky. It just
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disappointed me which was why I tried it on cd as well as reading the book.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
I go so hot-and-cold on Anne Tyler's books. This one, I must confess, left me feeling mostly cold. The dialogue was great, but the book didn't have much more to offer. The main character, was likable, but I didn't really care much about what happened to her, and I got annoyed by the number of times
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she changed her mind about how she felt and what she wanted. I think I was annoyed not because she changed her mind so much, per se, but because Tyler doesn't explain the reasons behind the changes very much, which left me frustrated.
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LibraryThing member whirled
Perhaps you need to be middle-aged to really get the full impact of Back When We Were Grownups. I did feel somewhat sympathetic towards the protagonist, Rebecca Davitch, who begins to question the years she has spent as a defacto matriarch, carer and general dogsbody for her long-dead husband's
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family. But compared to Tyler's other families, the Davitchs seemed a bit sketchy and dull.
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LibraryThing member suejonesjohnson
I am a big Anne Tyler fan and this book is full of Typical Tyler quirky characters and unconventional family members, told with pathos and tenderness.
LibraryThing member kppresent
About a 53 year old woman who has an instant family and her activities with this famly. I thought it would be a book about the woman herself but it turned out to be more of the family surrounding the woman than about her. I didn't like it very much.
LibraryThing member moonshineandrosefire
At 53, Rebecca Davitch has discovered she has become "the wrong person". No longer the serene young lady she was at 20, she has become family caretaker and cheerleader and dresses rather frumpily in her opinion. So she decides to do something about it. Now a mother, grandmother and proprietor of
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the family business, Rebecca decides to go back to her "roots" - her hometown in Virginia. She locates her old boyfriend whom she jilted and renews her intellectual interests. As Rebecca tries to recapture a life that might have been, the reader is shown the life that was for Rebecca at 20 years old. I loved this book - the characters really draw you in. If I had one complaint, it would be that it was a little confusing to keep all the characters straight. I give this book an A+!
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LibraryThing member carka
53-year-old Rebecca thinks she turns out to be someone she's not. Through the book, she thinks she was "miscast" the day she met her husband.
LibraryThing member cng12345
Excellent reader, good story, reflective about the seasons and relationships of a woman's life.
LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
I've read enough Anne Tyler novels that I almost believe I lived in Baltimore in a previous life. As always, this one is totally captivating with unbelievably fleshed-out characters.
LibraryThing member camelliacorner
Anne captures the intensity and flavors of relationships among families, the separate conversations, the short tiffs and arguments, the happy times, the comings and goings of the members and the doubts and thoughts about where life is heading. I was unsure of the ending, it felt very unsatisfying
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and left a hole in the story. Had she really moved on in her life or was she still where she had started at the beginning of the novel. Will, the boyfriend from rebecca's teenage years served as a realization that back to the past was not an option, but was the future any brighter. Wa there any satisfaction with here she had eneded up?
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LibraryThing member ruthseeley
One of my favourite Anne Tyler novels. Sort of a shorter, female, better written version of Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again thematically. Don't want to spoil the plot. But I will say that in a supreme synergistic irony, I read the book just as I too was re-enacting an adolescent/early adult
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romance rerun. With very similar results, I must say.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is my 12th Anne Tyler book. She is a master of writing about quirky main characters who are at some crossroads. Tyler does this as well as anyone. She deal with families and has a way of touching on every type of situation. This story deals with Rebecca Davitch a 53 year widow who married
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young and ended up with 3 young step daughters and one of her own. Her husbands early death led her to get caught up in the Davitch family business(hosting parties in their unique home). We meet Rebecca when she is questioning her life and wondering how it might have turned out had she made different decisions. Something that we all deal with. If you have never read Tyler than this is a perfect book to start with. She is funny and never boring. If you like her then you will have the joy of looking forward to reading all her great books.
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LibraryThing member turtlesleap
Rebecca Davitch is in her early 50's and is wondering whether her life might have been very different if she hadn't married into the chaotic Davitch clas and taken on the care and feeding of young stepdaughters as well, it seems, as her husband's entire family when he is killed after only a few
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years of marriage. Rebecca renews an old relationship, only to find it unsatisfying, As the story unfolds, the reader realizes that Rebecca is far better than she realizes, and ideally placed at the heart of this large and sometimes bumptious, family. This is a sweet and pleasant book.
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LibraryThing member BonnieJune54
I liked the main character. She's my age, so I relate to the idea of looking around and wondering how my life became what it is. I think Anne Tyler novels are best appreciated if you only read one every years.
LibraryThing member porch_reader
I listened to [Back When We Were Grownups] on audio over the past couple of weeks. I really enjoyed this story about Rebecca Davitch, the matriarch of a large, unruly family who owns an inn where parties are thrown. Her organizational skills and upbeat attitude have served her well in the business,
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but she sometimes she feels like she's turned into a stranger. Even her family doesn't seem to know the real Bec. As she welcomes new grandchildren, plans Poppy's 100th birthday party, and starts to date again, she reflects on who she is and who she has become.

I liked this book because I could identify with Bec. Her questions about who she really is are questions that I wrestle with too. A number of the supporting characters - especially Poppy - are loveable and genuine, and they round out this story nicely. Tyler excels at providing an intimate look at family life.
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