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Woman missing - NOT feared drowned!
Ladder of Years - Anne Tyler
Member Name: fizzle
Ladder of Years - Anne Tyler
Date: 10/09/01, updated on 10/09/01 (854 review reads)
Advantages: Interesting premise. Great characters and dialogue
Disadvantages: Quite similar to Tyler's other novels (although that could well be not such a bad thing!)
“BALTIMORE WOMAN DISAPPEARS DURING FAMILY VACATION … Witnesses of her departure [her family] … reported that to the best of their recollection she simply strolled away. Authorities do not suspect drowning, since Mrs. Grinstead avoided swimming whenever possible and professed a distinct aversion to water. In fact, her sister Eliza Felson, 52, has alleged to reporters that the missing woman ‘may have been a cat in her most recent incarnation’.”
I wanted to open with that quote from Ladder of Years for a number of reasons. Firstly, the novel opens with that passage – a newspaper report about the disappearance of Delia Grinstead. And hey, if it’s good enough for Tyler to start her novel with then it’s a good enough opener for my op.
I like the passage because it immediately sets the scene for the novel and gets you interested in events – you’re asking why this wife and mother would simply just “stroll away. The whole incident is so understated. A major skill of Tyler’s is that she cleverly conveys so much in just a few words and the quiet humour is superb. I love Eliza Felson’s comment that Delia may have been a cat in a former life, it sums up the quirkiness and eccentricity of Tyler’s characters perfectly.
Ladder of Years is Anne Tyler’s thirteenth novel and was described by Roddy Doyle as being “her best book yet”. Considering previous novels include the Pulitzer Prize winner Breathing Lessons and also Accidental Tourist (which was made into a major film) this is no mean feat. I agree with Doyle that this is one of Tyler’s best novels (despite the rather dodgy title which reminds me of some naff Mills & Boon romance or something).
For those of you who are familiar with Tyler’s work then this is no sudden departure from the norm. Once again Tyler writes about what she knows best: the lives of “ordinary
8221; Baltimore folk. The focus is on character and on family life, primarily the interaction of characters and their emotional growth. I think Tyler’s main strength is the way in which she brings ordinary people to life and reveals the eccentricities that make them far from ordinary. Ladder of Years is no exception.
Delia Grinstead is a 40 year old wife and mother. She is “sad, tired, anxious” and ultimately frustrated with her life. Her life has become mundane and it is perhaps little wonder that when we are first introduced to Delia she is doing the family shop in the local supermarket.
We learn that Delia’s father has recently died and then a chance encounter with a younger man in the supermarket leads to a surprising affair. These seem to be the catalysts for her remarkable decision to just begin again “from scratch”, to reinvent her life and to start over. So she simply strolls away whilst on a beach holiday with her family. She wants to start a new life, in a new town, away from Baltimore.
Let’s face it, the idea of just walking away from your existing life and starting all over again is wonderfully appealing. Particularly when you’ve had a horrible day, work is getting you down and your family are driving you mad. However the idea is also very daunting and that’s where the true magic of a novel comes into play. Novels give us the ability to imagine our dreams and live them voraciously through others. This is one of the appealing things about this book.
This isn’t a novel that is heavy on plot and some might find the pace too slow. The novel is basically about Delia’s transformation and her struggle with the past and the future whilst attempting to map out a life for itself. There’s a wonderful line in a letter which she receives from her mother in law which asks “when you’ve finished starting over, do you picture working up to the present
and coming home?”. This single line captures the whole thrust of the novel.
This internal battle of a life crisis might seem dull when I attempt to describe it (that’s okay don’t all clamour to reassure me that I’m wildly exciting) but Tyler makes it a compelling read. Ladder of Years is full of humour, sadness and wry observations on life.
The novel is fleshed out with a vivid variety of peripheral characters. Delia’s “great, galumphing, unmannerly, supercilious” children, who flinch from their mother’s hugs and criticise her clothes. Mr Lamb, the eccentric lodger with his “hazelnut smell of clothes worn once and then stuffed into drawers unwashed”. The lonely Belle, her landlady, “heavily rouged, wearing a towering dessert tray of lavish golden curls”, who in her desperation to find a man only rents her rooms out to men. These are just a few of the characters Tyler brings vividly to life. You imagine them living and breathing and going about their daily lives even when you close the pages of the book.
If you’ve read and enjoyed any of Tyler’s previous novels then I’m almost certain you would enjoy this (if you’ve hated what you’ve read before then I don’t think this novel is going to convince you otherwise, as we’re on familiar Tyler territory). If you’ve never come across any of Anne Tyler’s novels before then I believe this novel is a very good place to start. If you like subtle, understated novels, which have quietly amusing observations on family life and the hopes and frustrations of ordinary people, then have a read of this.