Back When We Were Grownups

Back When We Were Grownups

"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.


  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375412530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375412530
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (322 customer reviews)
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  1. Much has been made, and deservedly so, of the excellent opening line to this novel—Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. Not since Daphne DuMaurier penned Rebecca have I read such a strong, enticing opening. Coincidentally, the heroine of this story is named Rebecca. Like many middle-aged women, she reaches a point where she wonders what happened to that intelligent, inquisitive 18-year old and how she evolved into the family planner and consoler, a grandmother who dresses like a bag lady.
    Anne Tyler keeps her brilliant humor with this one as she gives us quirky, slightly offbeat characters surrounded by chaos, trying to make it while sliding downhill all the time. This work is all about the choices we make and the big “What IFS.”
    In the midst of one typically chaotic moment, while trying to cheer up an unhappy, grumbling family during a picnic, a perpetually jolly Rebecca is shocked to realize what a clean, simple life she would have led of it weren’t for love. Nothing in the much-extended and offbeat Davitch family ever “flows” and it is always Rebecca at the epicenter of all crises. Apparently, she learns, you grow to love whomever you’re handed whether it’s a 99-year old man on his way to the hospital or a daughter who drops husband after husband, always after having given birth to a child.
    Tyler gives us a look into the everyday events in life that are fraught with laughter (but only to an outsider or years later in retrospect.Read more ›

  2. I have to be honest. I nearly put this book down within the first few pages, having been introduced to such characters named Biddy, Patch, NoNo, and Jeep. I mean REALLY, I was wondering what was up with Anne Tyler’s choice of names. Nevertheless, I stuck with it and discovered that the unique nick-names (as later found out) are a benefit to keeping the family tree straight, saving the reader from what would otherwise cause the greatest of headaches… there are so many people in this book!
    That is how I know Tyler is a great author; she offers us a book of only 274 pages and gives us a story that is 1,000 pages in magnitude, a history of so many persons tucked into this easy-to-read package. “Back When We Were Grownups” truly deserves four and a half stars. (My best rating, being that I don’t believe in a perfect score.)
    I truly empathized with the character of Rebecca, a widowed fifty-three year old woman whose sole responsibility seems to be as peace-maker to her riotous family; meanwhile, paying the bills as a professional party-planner at the “Open Arms.” She seems to have lost her life, having given all her time to everything or everyone other than herself. She starts to wonder about the road less traveled and what makes this novel inviting is that she goes back to that road, years later, and picks up the journey.
    “Back When We Were Grownups” is a book about re-evaluating our choices, deciding whether we’ve carried our life or if life has carried us. This is a novel about the question of fate, if one has – somehow, accidentally – denied her own true destiny.
    In its conclusion, I had two distinct endings in mind.Read more ›

  3. Anne Tyler is a private person who never gives interviews, does readings, or signs autographs. For many years, I lived less than a mile away from her home in Northern Baltimore, and occasionally I would drive past in hopes of catching a glimpse of her out in the yard. I never did. However, in her last book, “A Patchwork Planet,” she did provide one small window into her personal life: a dedication in memory of her late husband, who must have died while that book was being written.
    With that piece of information in mind, it becomes apparent to the reader that “Back When We Were Grownups” is Tyler’s first novel as a widow. The main character, Rebecca, is widowed; there are aching descriptions of what it’s like to lose a loved one. If this is Tyler’s most melancholy work, well, it’s understandable, given the circumstances.
    Somehow, she manages to make each new family of Baltimore eccentrics seem fresh; the dialogue rings true, and each character’s traits are carefully observed (I particularly loved Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend’s obsession with his home-cooked chili). My only quarrel is that there are SO many characters that at times, I felt like drawing up a family tree just to keep track of all the in-laws and children and ex-husbands (not to mention the many repairmen constantly tending to Rebecca’s crumbling old house). This is a bittersweet, beautifully written work.

  4. This was my first Anne Tyler book. The first sentence intrigued me, so I bought the book. I first read the readers’ reviews of the book and, of course, didn’t see a consensus of opinions. I really didn’t care `cause I knew I was going to read it anyway. If you’re used to reading action, fast-paced, suspenseful books, then this can be a bit of a turn. Ms. Tyler can write about the ordinary with flare. I would say she’s the Jerry Seinfeld of writing.
    The premise, to those who don’t know, is whether Rebecca, the main character, has actually chosen the life that she was meant to live. If we are in our 40’s or above, many times we look back on our lives and can see where the path we were taking suddenly changed. It usually occurs in our 20’s, but whose to say it can’t happen in our 30’s, 40’s, or whenever. We can be constantly striving to better our lives and, in so doing, our paths can change again.
    At a family picnic where her incredibly wacky family are doing their usual wacky stuff, Rebecca muses on that subject. She decides to go home to see her mother (I sure wouldn’t want to go home too often if she were MY mother) as well as an old boyfriend. As we get to meet this old boyfriend, I thought, “Oh my God, no. This guy is so bleak, and so lifeless, while Rebecca is too alive to be with him.” Thank God she comes to her senses. The cutest character is Poppy, the elderly (nearing 100) uncle of her late husband. At his hilarious 100th birthday party (which he’s frequently reminding Rebecca of throughout the book), when he’s asked to give a speech, Poppy starts droning on, with great detail, on the events of the day…. what he had for breakfast, etc. Ms.Read more ›

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