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LADDER OF YEARS by Anne Tyler Kirkus Star


by Anne Tyler

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-44155-7
Publisher: Knopf

Another agreeably offbeat journey back to Tyler country (i.e., Baltimore and environs), where the characters who will fill the big, slightly dowdy, old houses are spellbound by their own homely lives, their routines, their family stories, their recipes for mint pea soup -- until something happens to break the spell. For Delia Grinstead, the heroine of Tyler's 13th novel (Saint Maybe, 1991, etc.), it's a kiss -- or, more accurately, a lot of kissing -- following a chance encounter at the grocery store that awakens her to the idea that perhaps she's had enough of her 20-year marriage to Sam, who can't even offer sufficient explanation why he was attracted to her in the first place. And she seems to have had enough, as well, of her three complaining almost-grown children and her two squabbling sisters, not to mention the workmen forever traipsing through her house. So, Delia leaves. She runs away to a nearby small town and starts over as the unattached, no-nonsense Miss Grinstead. In fairly short order, though, she finds she's accumulated a web of connections in her new community, including her landlady, the couple who run the diner, and the boarder from across the hall. Then, when she takes a new job, caring for a young boy whose mother has left the family, she comes to realize that she may have fled the pull of one domestic spell only to fall into another one. All of Tyler's trademarks are here: comedy, the sweet, blunt edges of romance, and characters so perfectly, achingly drawn you can never decide whether they're the most oddball or most everyday people you've ever come across. Despite all this, Delia's story begins to feel slightly unfocused -- it pulls our sympathies every which way. There are allusions here to both King Lear and to fairy tales, but the ending to Delia's adventure is neither tragedy nor happily ever after, but something awkwardly in-between. Still, any journey with Tyler is always worth the ride -- and then some.