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Ladder of Years

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Married with three almost-grown children, Delia Grinstead has vanished without trace or reason. But for Delia, walking away from it all is an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting, and unimagined life. Chosen by "Time" magazine as One of the Ten Best Novels of the Year.

406 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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About the author

Anne Tyler

106 books6,759 followers
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. She has published 20 novels, her debut novel being If Morning Ever Comes in (1964). Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons , was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,467 reviews
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,149 reviews1,682 followers
May 1, 2023

Cordelia, da tutti chiamata più brevemente Delia, ha quarant’anni, un marito di quindici più grande di lei malato di cuore, e tre figli diventati tre persone sgraziate, maleducate e sprezzanti.
È moglie e madre, come spesso succede, data per scontata.
Un giorno durante una passeggiata sulla spiaggia “per puro caso” si allontana dal mare verso l’entroterra, accetta il primo passaggio che le si propone, e s’allontana da tutto e tutti.
Delia non va molto lontano, si trasferisce in una piccola città vicino alla Baltimora che si è lasciata alle spalle, dove vive la sua famiglia, dove sempre Tyler ambienta le sue storie.
Per rifarsi una nuova esistenza, una nuova identità, una nuova vita: una nuova persona? Un nuovo inizio?

Jack Nicholson in “Professione: reporter”.

Una decisione, casuale o meno, che molti vorrebbero prendere. E di cui si è occupata più volte sia la letteratura che il cinema (i primi due titoli che mi vengono in mente sono entrambi firmati da Michelangelo Antonioni, “L’avventura” e “Professione: reporter”).
Peccato che le tante possibilità di una svolta così decisa rimangano abbastanza inesplorate dalla Tyler che racconta la storia in modo che sembra ricalcare il titolo, “per puro caso”, con relativa convinzione.

Lea Massari e Gabriele Ferzetti in “L’avventura”.

Anne Tyler racconta in una delle sue rare interviste che ha una scatola sul tavolo di lavoro dove conserva e archivia foglietti con parole, idee, dialoghi, note. Magari rimangono lì per anni. Fino a che ne prendo uno e comincio.
Allora scrive a mano, finisce il romanzo e lo batte al computer, lo ricopia ancora a mano e lo registra per ascoltare se funziona e correggerlo, la versione finale va di nuovo a schermo.
Un procedimento complesso che interrompo solo quando sono soddisfatta. Una cura quasi maniacale dei dettagli.
Legge e rilegge “Anna Karenina”, ama la purezza e la chiarezza di Tolstoj e Cechov, ha letto ventidue volte “Piccole donne”, è incuriosita dalla difficoltà degli uomini a tirare fuori i sentimenti e le emozioni.

"About Elly", il bel film di Asghar Farhadi (2009) ambientato sul Mar Caspio, dove la giovane Elly del titolo scompare misteriosamente.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
485 reviews808 followers
September 18, 2018
If Ladder of Years isn't already one of my favorite novels, The Last Picture Show and The Remains of the Day can see it in their rearview mirrors. Taken together, each novel documents the human experience at critical points, ages 18, 45 and 65, perhaps. Anne Tyler's compulsively absorbing comic drama published in 1995 fulfills the middle chapter. Membership in that age demographic is not required to become enraptured with Tyler's effortless wit, keen naturalism or existential questioning, nor is it needed to get caught up her protagonist's decision to walk away from life as she knows it and start fresh.

The story begins in the suburbs of Baltimore. Delia Grinstead shops for her family's groceries, lost in thought in the produce section about how oddly vegetables are named. A younger man approaches and begins to chat with her. Terrified that he might be trying to pick her up, he offers the name Adrian Bly-Brice and reveals that he's spotted his ex-wife in the store with the accountant she left him for. He asks Delia to pretend that she's his girlfriend. She enthusiastically agrees but introduced to Rosemary Bly-Brice, begins to dwell on her own imperfections, pushing a cart while the immaculate Rosemary carries a hand cart.

Delia returns to a family in Roland Park she feels invisible to. Her caring and aloof husband Sam is a doctor who took over both the house and later, the medical practice of Delia's father, who died four months ago. Her three nearly adult children live at home: Susie is a Goucher College junior, Ramsay a freshman at John Hopkins close to flunking out due to his relationship with a single mother, and fifteen-year-old Carroll has entered his non-communicative phase. Her sister Eliza, a librarian proud of her intellect, also lives with them. While her family reprimand her for bothering them with phone messages that Delia realizes are at least a week old, her thoughts turn to Adrian, to something new.

She took to stepping into the yard several times a day. She seized any excuse to arrange herself on the front-porch swing. Never an outdoor person, and most certainly not a gardener, she spent half an hour posed it goatskin gloves among Eliza's medicinal herbs. And after someone telephoned but merely breathed and said nothing when she answered, she jumped up at every new call like a teenager. "I'll get it! I'll get it!" When there weren't any calls, she made a teenager's bargains with Fate: I won't think about it, and then the phone will ring. I'll go out of the room; I'll pretend I'm busy and the phone will ring for sure. Shepherding her family into the car for a Sunday visit to Sam's mother, she moved fluidly, like an actress or a dancer conscious of every minute of being watched.

But if someone really had been watching, think of what he would see: the ragged disarray of Delia's home life. Ramsay, short and stone-faced and sullen, kicking a tire in disgust; Carroll and Susie bickering over who would get a window seat; Sam settling himself behind the wheel, pushing his glasses higher on his nose, wearing an unaccustomed knit shirt that made him look weak-armed and fussy. And at the end of their trip, the Iron Mama (as Delia called her)--sturdy, plain Eleanor Grinstead, who patched her own roof and mowed her own lawn and had reared her one son single-handed in that spotless Calvert Street row house where she waited now, lips clamped tight, to hear what new piece of tomfoolery her daughter-in-law had contrived.

Unable to sleep, Delia goes for a walk and runs into Adrian, taking his dog for a pee. He invites her over for tea and their visits take on the awkwardness of a high school affair, with Delia stealing away minutes to be taken in Adrian's arms and kissed before she flees. Her Eurocentric sister Linda arrives with her twins Marie-Claire and Thérèse for the family's annual trip to a cottage on the Delaware shore. Sam answers the door and brings in a woman who identifies herself as Adrian's mother. She warns Delia to stay away from her son, who she claims is working things out with his wife. The idea that Delia could be involved with another man is a joke to her family.

On the beach, Delia realizes that Adrian never pursued her and that their brief "affair" was little more than happenstance, full of clues into his character that she chose to overlook. Her marriage comes to a head when Sam insists on lathering her in sunblock, continues his annoying habit of deliberately mispronouncing names ("Adrian Fried Rice") and walking away from Delia after riling her up in anger. Fed up, she takes a walk on the beach and returns to the cottage, where she encounters a repairman who shares the same name as her cat--Vernon. He shows off his vehicle, an RV he's borrowed from his brother. Delia is mesmerized by the prospect of a mobile home.

She asks Vernon if she can ride with him inland, where Delia claims she has family. Wearing a scrunchy swimsuit, her espadrilles, her husband's beach robe and carrying a tote bag with a cosmetics kit and $500 cash, she asks to get off in the town of Bay Borough. Planning on staying the night, she buys underwear from a dime store and a dress from a consignment shop. The woman staring back at Delia in the mirror looks somber and serious-minded, a librarian or secretary, perhaps. She finds a room for rent by a bachelorette real estate agent named Belle Flint and still wearing sunblock, a minimum wage job as secretary for a stuffy attorney. Delia decides to stay a while longer.

She took to sitting on her bed in the evenings and staring into space. It was too much to say that she was thinking. She certainly had no conscious thoughts, or at any rate, none that mattered. Most often she was, oh, just watching the air, as she used to do when she was small. She used to gaze for hours at those multicolored specks that swarm in a room's atmosphere. Then Linda informed her they were dust motes. That took the pleasure out of it, somehow. Who cares about mere dust? But now she thought Linda was wrong. It was air she watched, an infinity of air endlessly rearranging itself, and the longer she watched the more soothed she felt, the more mesmerized, the more peaceful.

She was learning the value of boredom. She was clearing out her mind. She had always known that her body was just a shell she lived in, but it occurred to her now that her mind was yet another shell--in which case, who was "she"? She was clearing out her mind to see what was left. Maybe there would be nothing.

Delia wondered if Sam knew that Carroll was scheduled for tennis lessons the middle two weeks in July. You couldn't depend on Carroll to remember on his own. And did anyone recall that this was dentist month? Well, probably Eliza did. Without Eliza, Delia could never left her family so easily.

She wasn't sure if that was something to be thankful for.

The fact was, Delia was expendable. She was an extra. She had lived out her married life like a little girl playing house, and always there'd be a grown-up standing ready to take over--her sister or her husband or her father.

Logically, she should have found that a comfort. (She used to be afraid of dying while her children were so small.) But instead, she had suffered pangs of jealousy. Why was it Sam, for instance, that everybody turned to in times of crisis? He always got to be the reasonable one, the steady and reliable one; she was purely decorative. But how had that come about? Where had she been looking while that state of affairs developed?

Whether toeing the line between drama and comedy, or literary fiction and romance, Anne Tyler is so good at demonstrating how great fiction is achieved by a matter of degrees and good taste. Pumped up with self-importance or literary pretension, Ladder of Years would be boring and insufferable. Conformed to convention or expectation--every male character Delia meets on her journey presents the opportunity for her to run off on some wacky romance--the same story would be lukewarm junk. Instead of following literary trends, Tyler follows the rhythms of a bittersweet life, attendant with security and health but also deep and painful regret, sometimes tragic, often comic.

Delia planned to go next to the Gobble-Up for some lunch things, but just as she was leaving the house a young man in uniform arrived on the porch. She thought at first he was some kind of soldier; the uniform was a khaki color, and his hair was prickly short. "Miz Grinstead?" he said.


"I'm Chuck Akers, from the Polies."

It took her a moment to translate that.

"Think I could have a word with you?" he asked.

"Certainly," she said. She turned to lead him inside and then realized she had nowhere to take him. Her bedroom was out of the question, and she couldn't very well use Belle's living room. So she turned back and asked, "What can I do for you?" and they ended up conducting their business right there on the porch.

are Miz Cordelia F. Grinstead," he said.


"I understand you came here of your own free will."

"Yes. I did."

"Nobody kidnapped you, coerced you ..."

"Nobody else had anything to do with it."

"Well, I surely wish you had thought to make that clear before you left."

"I'm sorry," she said. "Next time I will."

Next time!

She wondered when on earth she supposed that would be.

Tyler's great strength is taking characters I ordinarily would not care about and investing me in the outcome of their decisions. Uptight White Anglo Saxon Protestants in suburban Baltimore who seem like they might faint if they saw a homeless person or heard a four-lettered word ("Oh, Lord" being a frequent curse) still put their pants on one leg at a time and I related to Delia Grinstead. Most of us have thought about walking away from our lives and to start over, or wondered what life would be like if we were someone else. With Ladder of Years, Tyler takes us on that journey, without sprinkling any artificial flavors or plot elements. I believed her and was believably moved by her novel.
Profile Image for Julie G .
883 reviews2,742 followers
September 3, 2018
I haven't been this conflicted about a book in years. I'm not quite sure where to begin, so perhaps I'll ramble.

This is an intriguing page-turner, centered around themes of abandonment and identity. The protagonist, Delia, is a stranger to both her family and herself, which results in a painful quest to find what is missing.

This novel runs the gamut of being quirky and humorous to being downright depressing and dark. What Delia does, and how her family responds, is just. . . sad.

Delia is, at times, worthy of the reader's sympathy and interest, and, at other times, she's a selfish brat. The ending leaves one wanting SO much more.

Yet, much rises to the top here, as Tyler stirs her pot. Stirs her pot and summons some of our greatest literary explorations of "what happens when Mother leaves the family." Other stories that can't help but come to mind: Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and, more recently, Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

When Mother leaves, things fall apart. Sometimes, but not always, they come back together.

This is rich material here, a story filled with twists and turns that could make your book club of 40+ women argue with delight.

One of the ladies might even throw a punch.
Profile Image for Diane.
215 reviews
May 9, 2013
Why I Quit Reading Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler has been around a long time and when her books first came out I read them religiously, but I finally lost interest after "Accidental Tourist." "Ladder of Years" reminded me of why.

When Tyler first started publishing in 1964, there was something fresh and unusual about her style. She didn't judge her characters; didn't seem to be using them to symbolize anything. She simply seemed to like her characters, there was affection for them on the page. At the time that was unique, and that's what I liked about reading her books. However, eventually, I was bothered by that very thing. The books seemed too light. There didn't seem to be a point to her stories. Tyler was the quintessential “post-modernist.” Maybe I was just old fashioned, but I started needing more weight, more "meaning."

I got all the way to the end of "Ladder of Years" and [SPOILER ALERT!] when Delia returned to her husband, I did not see it coming. It was not on my radar, because Tyler didn’t put it there. But as I look back on the story now, it didn't matter. It didn't matter whether Delia ended up staying with her husband Sam or returning to her new life with Joel. Either ending was equally plausible. It was hard to care. But I felt cheated because I thought Delia had left her family because her husband never really engaged with her, yet in the end she goes back to him even though that hasn't changed. As it turns out, Delia didn’t really want to engage with him, or anyone else. In her new life, she works as a “live-in woman” performing housework and parenting tasks for people unrelated to her, because that’s the way she likes things, not too enmeshed. So I suppose going back with noncommittal Sam is just fine. But if Tyler was trying to make a statement about the virtues of familiarity, it was entirely lost on me. In the end I just didn't care; I was no longer invested in Delia. (Perhaps Driscoll's description of the Grinsteads is where Tyler tips her hand: "Not mingling or taking part, living to yourselves like you do; and then your pretend like that’s normal. You pretend like everything’s normal, you’re so cagey and smooth; you gloss things over; you don’t explain.” But I still don't see her point.)

Anne Tyler’s books are pleasant enough and she is a very skillful writer, with great descriptions that bring a world to life, but too often for me they read like cartoons. The colorful, pointless characters (Nat is a case in point) are amusing but not truly interesting. In this book, they even have quirky cartoon-like names: Binky, Pooky, Spence (for a girl), Lysander, Mr. Pomfret, Rick Rack, Joe and Amy Guggles, Frank and Mia Mewmew, Tucky Pearson...

I was also bothered by the way in which the folksy narrator’s voice leaked into everyone else’s, so that you have adolescent boys saying improbable things such as, “You’re going through those hankies like a spigot.” He’s 13 but he sounds like a little old lady!

I respect Anne Tyler but I can't recommend this book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,133 reviews8,133 followers
June 6, 2018
All of my reviews of Anne Tyler's books are starting to sound the same because my experiences with her books are similar in that they are always enjoyable. She is such a reliable author, and sure you might criticize her for not really being very adventurous in her stories, but there is something comforting about her work and I find that highly enjoyable. When I pick up an Anne Tyler book I know what I am getting into, but still at times I find myself surprised by things. I appreciate that you can imagine all of her characters living in the same world, since they all do live in Baltimore (at least in the novels of hers I've read thus far).

What I liked about this one was how I was never sure who to sympathize with—Delia or her family? Who is in the right and who is in the wrong here? There are a lot of grey areas in Anne Tyler's books because she's very observant and depicts life as it is, which is messy and difficult to wade through at times. But her stories are so smoothly told, I never pay attention to the fact that I am reading because I am so absorbed by the interior lives of her characters. I adored Delia even when I was a bit frustrated by her, and her quirky side characters (and their names: Driscoll? Binky? I mean, come on!) are the cherry on top.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,049 followers
December 9, 2016
I have read quite a few books by Anne Tyler now and I have really enjoyed nearly all of them. This was no exception.
I like the way this author writes, calmly, even placidly, she steadily builds up a picture of life the way her characters live it. There are no huge dramas, no histrionics, just the minutiae of daily life and the ordinariness of everyday people. Along the way we develop an understanding of our characters and start to sympathise with them and even worry about them.
Our main character in this book is Delia, an average middle aged house wife who one day just keeps walking away from her life. It is an intriguing idea that one could just walk off and start somewhere fresh with a whole different lifestyle and different people. Of course there are repercussions and people are hurt along the way. The ending was the opposite of what I had been hoping for but it was true to life and not hopelessly romantic.
Quite a long book but very easy to read and very hard to put down. Recommended:)
28 reviews2 followers
October 28, 2009
The idea of this book - a woman who just walks away from her family during at beach vacation - was very intriguing. Who hasn't thought about getting in a car and driving away at some point? But the direction of the story meanders and I despised the ending. It seemed like Tyler just got tired of writing it and didn't know how to resolve the plot. There was no feeling of some essential insight gained by the main character. This critical flash of insight, a culmination of all that's gone before, is a hallmark of Tyler's novels. I kept waiting for it in this novel, but Tyler stood me up.

This is the only novel by Tyler I don't recommend to people. If you're a big Anne Tyler fan and have a passion to read absolutely every one of her books, then get this one from the public library.

If you've never read Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant or The Accidental Tourist are much better works.

The only book I ever bought on a business trip, then threw in the trash!
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,074 reviews490 followers
February 24, 2023
Feeling invisible and unappreciated....

Reaching a limit and acting on impulse, Delia found herself walking away, hoping to leave her despair behind her.

Of course, there was only so far that she could go before her heartache caught up with her. So often a parent or spouse will feel like they have been trapped by their decisions in life. You follow the socially accepted pattern: marry, have children, raise your family.

But when that family sees you only as an unpaid housekeeper and constantly belittle you and scorn your suggestions and opinions, you either bonelessly disappear into your marginal role in their life, or you strike out and make a better life for yourself.

I thoroughly sympathized with Delia: how often have we - as parents or caregivers - felt marginalized, unheard, taken for granted? Delia suffered enormously from her spontaneous decision to leave it all behind, but, ultimately, she gained from her self-inflicted suffering as well...

... and grew stronger...

Anne Tyler was very clever: ironically, Delia left her unhappy family home behind, only to find herself living in the town her ancestors originally came from! Delia was able to observe other relationships in the new town that had adopted her: everyone had their own set of burdens to carry. Sam, Joel and Nat all shared the same unconscious flaw: they were intolerant of their offspring's every action, constantly criticized and corrected them, and did their unwitting best to alienate their children's affections.

No spoilers here but Nat's final, defeated speech about his second chance at fatherhood in his senior years summed it all up: time warp indeed! Back to the future with a vengeance!

A very enjoyable, often humorous read: I'm rating this a 4.4 out of 5 rounded down to a 4 because I felt that this story went on a tad too long. Not sure what I would have edited out but I was pretty much emotionally spent by the time I turned the last page: the Grinsteads are hard work!
Still, very highly recommended, because Anne Tyler is a treasure!
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,571 followers
September 24, 2018
My ninth Tyler novel, and my second favorite (after Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant). I recently joined my neighborhood book club and suggested this as the September read after I saw that Waterstones had made it one of their summer recommendations – even though it’s from 1995. Delia Grinstead is a 40-year-old mother of three from Baltimore. On a beach vacation to Delaware, she gets fed up with her family and walks back to their rental cottage, then on a whim gets in the van with the repairman and has him drive her somewhere, anywhere. With little more than the swimsuit and bathrobe she’s wearing, she arrives in Bay Borough and starts to make herself a new life from scratch. A few of the book club members thought this setup was far-fetched, and objected to Delia’s selfishness. But we’re certainly invited to feel sympathy for this woman who married at 19 and never got a chance to go to college or see the world. She grew up helping out in her father’s medical practice and then her husband Sam took it over – perhaps he even married her for that reason? This house has been her whole world, but also her prison.

So we get some familiar Tyler elements that have also recently recurred in Clock Dance: taking a break from your real life, creating alternative families, testing out ‘what if?’ and asking if it’s ever truly too late to overcome inertia and change. There are many wonderful secondary characters: Delia’s first employer, Ezekiel Pomfret, an attorney who’s constantly tinkering with his new computer; Belle, her landlady, who has a penchant for married men; Eleanor, her penny-pinching mother-in-law, who turns out to be her most faithful and thoughtful correspondent in her new life; and the Miller family, for whom she becomes a housekeeper – language stickler and high school principal Joel, 12-year-old son Noah, estranged wife Ellie, who left the family to become a weather presenter, and her father Nat, who in his sixties is starting a whole new life with a young woman he met at the gift shop of his retirement home.

Sam is less weedy than your average Tyler man, though Nat is by far the book’s strongest male character, and also gets two of the key lines: the title phrase and “time trip” are his descriptions for what life is like. The nature of time is a major topic: is it a ladder you have to keep climbing, or is it more of a circle? The way that characters and incidents echo each other (Delia and Ellie the runaway wives; the wacky schemes that open and close the book) suggests more of a cyclical pattern, and, indeed, Delia’s trip . I love how the theme of time travel develops, starting from the newsletter Adrian from the supermarket produces. There are also various terrific dinner party scenes. A real stand-out from Tyler, and one I’d recommend to fans and newbies alike.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
33 reviews4 followers
February 17, 2009
I did not relate well to the main character, a woman who married directly out of high school who lived in the same house her entire life and regretted never having set out on her own at any point in her life. So, I dragged through the plot, which sent the main character to start an anonymous life in a new town and abandoning her children, to find something interesting (because I read Tyler's When We Were Grownups and I remember liking it, so I thought that there must be a pearl in this book, too). The pearl presented itself about 5 pages before the end, in this observation by a sagely grandfather who was the first to sit at a table set for twelve people and was in the throes of looking back at his life with regret:

"'There's a picture I'm reminded of that [C. R. Savage:] took toward the end of his life. Shows his dining room table set for Christmas dinner. Savage himself sitting amongst the empty chairs, waiting for his family. Chair after chair after chair, silverware laid just so, even a baby's high chair, all in readiness. And I can't help thinking, when I look at that photo, I bet that's as good as it got, that day. From there on out, it was all downhill, I bet. Actual sons and daughters arrived, and they quarreled over the drumsticks and sniped at their children's table manners and brought up hurtful incidents from fifteen years before; and the baby had this whimper that gave everybody a headache. Only just for that moment . . . just as the shutter was clicking, none of that had happened yet, you see, and the table looked so beautiful, like someone's dream of a table, and old Savage felt so happy and so -- what's the word I want, so . . . anticipatory!'"

Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,643 followers
October 19, 2016
I love all of Anne Tyler's stories. They speak to me in a comforting way, and "Ladder of Years" was no exception.
In this novel, we get to meet Delia, a 40-year-old woman who all of a sudden decides to leave her family because she's had enough. She wasn't planning on leaving; she just happened to do so on the family's yearly trip to the beach.
As per usual, Anne Tyler writes strikingly about family life and everyday problems. I grew very attached to Delia, but I also felt like some of her decisions and thoughts were straight on silly. That's why this book of Tyler's didn't fascinate me as much as some of her other novels.
Furthermore, this is quite a long book that could have been shortened, in my opinion. But all in all, a very enjoyable read that was easy and funny to get through and that gave me the safe and reassuring feelings that I always get from Anne Tyler's works.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,002 reviews
June 28, 2021
I've held this up in my mind, mentally referred to it, fondly remembered it for many years and this summer returned to it for a re-read. Happy to say it absolutely lived up to the memory, was just what I needed right now, and I had actually forgotten one wonderful aspect-which is just what a good writer Anne Tyler is. Such beautifully crafted sentences, such thoughtful word choices. There's something about this book that goes straight to my heart.

June 2021: Still 5 stars, still a comforting favorite.
Profile Image for Mary.
643 reviews37 followers
December 30, 2012
"Baltimore Woman Disappears During Family Vacation" declares the newspaper headline. Forty-year-old Cordelia Grinstead is last seen strolling along a Delaware beach, wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and carrying a beach tote with five hundred dollars tucked inside. To her husband, Sam and three almost-grown children, she has vanished without trace or reason. However, for Delia, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around the edge of her own family, "walking away from it all" is not a premeditated act but an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting and unencumbered life.

In a nearby town, Delia reinvents herself - getting her first job, finding her first place, and buying her first business suit. She becomes a serious and independent-minded woman with no ties. However, soon after Delia begins her exciting, unencumbered life, fresh responsibilities inevitably accumulate.

I really enjoyed this story. It drew me in completely and I was curious to see how the story would eventually turn out for all the characters. I give this book an A+! and look forward to reading more books by Anne Tyler.
Profile Image for Colleen O'Neill Conlan.
111 reviews10 followers
September 9, 2014
I loved the premise: a woman—loving wife, devoted mom to three mostly grown kids, and all-around "good girl"—simply walks away from her family and her life and starts anew elsewhere. I think there are probably many, many women living a similar family dynamic who might fantasize about this kind of do-over, even if they never actually walk out the door, or as Delia Grinstead does here, down the beach away from the annual family vacation.

But Tyler lost me. I can buy that Delia pulls off this great escape without much forethought (if she thought it through, she might never have even made such an attempt), but I wondered at her lack of introspection once she'd left her family. Most of the narrative is simply moving forward in her new life. She boards with a kooky real estate agent, quickly finds a job as a secretary with the lawyer in the small town she's chosen, very much like what she did for her doctor husband (and her doctor father before him) in the small town she came from. She makes a few friends, gets a cat, takes a different job, this time taking care of and living in with a widower and his son.

It's all very tame. She goes from the domestic role she's known most of her life to another that is strangely similar. And I don't take issue with that. Sometimes (oftentimes?) that's what a do-over is: a chance to do the same thing but with a different outcome. I wasn't expecting Delia to hike the Appalachian Trail or become a barkeep in some redneck town. Just leaving is enough of an adventure. I just wanted to understand it more, understand how she came to walk away, especially from her children. There is something archetypal about the mother-child bond, and it's completely unexplored here.

But as the story continues, Delia seems happy, and you root for her. Which is why it's so deflating when she returns to her family. It's her daughter's wedding that calls her back, and it's disheartening to see her slip right back into that old skin. Her husband, as staid as ever, hasn't changed. Yet she stays. Just as her leaving went unexamined, so does her return. I loved the story, got carried along, for sure. But in the end I simply put the book down and sighed
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Stephanie Jane.
Author 5 books231 followers
November 28, 2015
I often find myself empathising with characters in novels, but it is rare that I can so completely identify with one in the same way as I did with Delia Grinstead in Anne Tyler's Ladder Of Years. Having pulled a similar stunt myself, albeit as a teenager, I was amazed at Tyler's apparently uncanny knowledge of how I felt at the time. " How do I get out of this then?" I suppose it must not be such an unusual experience after all. Delia's reinvention of herself from Dee - fragile put-upon and overlooked wife, mother and daughter - to Miss Grinstead - efficient secretary and woman in her own right - is such a sensitively drawn transformation that I was hooked on every word of her tale. I loved both her emotional journey and also the detailed description of her actual journey from Baltimore to Bay Borough, the ideal anonymous small town on arrival and, of course, soon discovered to be anything but.

All the characters in Ladder Of Years are superbly drawn and my favourites, other than Delia herself, were Iron Mama Eleanor who perhaps wasn't such a paragon as she had forced herself to appear, and Carroll, the model of teenage angst. Perhaps it does all get a little too schmalzy towards the end what with weddings and babies and the like, but the characters still felt so true and honest to themselves that I could get past it. Much of the book, as is Tyler's style, is made up of tiny details so I can understand that this read wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. However, Ladder Of Years is definitely one of my top reads of 2015. I finished it three days ago and am still giddily excited when recalling the story - sign of a great book indeed!

See more of my book reviews on my blog, Stephanie Jane
Profile Image for Kam.
344 reviews11 followers
November 13, 2009
I totally agree with another reviewer: I am plodding through this book. I almost gave up on page 75. Well, I'm halfway through, and am actually involved; but, despite liking Anne Tyler a lot in the past (I couldn't wait to get back to her), I find this book very disappointing. I thought: have I changed that much? This book is rather trite. So I don't think the writing is that good. I also don't like the main character much.I think I'm involved because I like her escape. A new place, what that means.
Okay, I'm done. And even though it involved me, from 1/3 to like 2/3rds of the way through, it just got weird a couple times. It didn't make sense. The ending is awful. What's going to happen to all the people who trust her in Bay ___?! They were just left. What was the meaning of Nat coming back?

And she doesn't make sense of why the character chooses what she did. Or even, not quite, why leaving was such a good idea.

There were 3 times in the book I wanted to scribble in the margins: WTF?! I read and reread passages, and could not follow the reasoning -- rational and/or emotional.

The raves on this book are baffling. It pissed me off and I can't wait to start reading another book so as to clear out its twisted logic and supposed meanings. (I wonder about my previous liking of her!)

Chicago Tribune or something "COMPELLING"; some other paper, "UTTERLY [something:]" -- what is missing in them that they missed what was so obvious to me?!
Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
538 reviews100 followers
September 5, 2018
Ladder Of Years was published in 1995 when Anne Tyler was 54. Its a book thats been thrust back into the limelight in the UK, in 2018, by Waterstones (whose local bookclub selected it as my monthly read). Tyler has written many books subsequently, and her fame has grown. In reality though, the parochial Baltimore setting has changed little and nor has Tyler's writing dated in the last twenty three years.
I feel a bit conflicted. There’s nothing wrong with writing about middle life, and small community America in the twentieth century. That’s the America of Norman Rockwell, barbecues, holiday cottages by the sea; children growing up and creating their own families as extensions of their own matriarch and patriarach.
In Ladder of Years, a familar Tyler theme is given free reign. Thats the examination of under-the-surface discontent, and furtive rebellion. "Moms” are all too frequently regarded as a piece of the household furniture. Uncomplaining, dutiful, sexless, predictable...?? Wrong. - Look more closely and there’s a more carefree individual, not so blankly compliant, fuelled by bodice ripping literature, wanting to express, and free herself.

"Every woman ought to learn how to dine alone in a formal restaurant without a book (165)

In this story there’s something delicious about the human doormat striking a blow for emancipation, and pulling it off. How many of us relish the thought of starting over? What it is to re-invent yourself, and to break free from just doing what is expected.

In large part Ladder of Years captures this feeling and the reader is pulled along a path of carefree, impetuous abandon.

I cannot bring myself to describe this Tyler as great literature, nor great story telling, though. With the exception of our leading lady, Cor(Delia) Grinstead, the rest of the character ensemble don't convince. A lodger, Mr Lamb, morphes from social misfit to marriageable candidate without any discernible explanation for his change of circumstances. Couples on the brink of separation suddenly have second thoughts and get back together. The Mills & Boon type romances sometimes favoured by Delia, are seemingly replicated in real life. Nat and Binky; Adrian and his on off wife; Belle and her paramours; Ellie and Joel. None of them are believable. A wild, chaotic scene involving Ellie and Delia is poorly inserted.

Then the end... a cop out. And unsatisfactory.

In summary it was a case of the curate's egg for me. Good in parts, but only in parts.
Profile Image for Nita Kohli.
189 reviews47 followers
October 14, 2016
Another great book by Anne Tyler that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Delia lives with her doctor husband and three almost grown children. She is at that stage of her life where everyone in the family begins to take the woman - the wife, the mother for granted. Her kids don't need her as much as they did when they were actually kids. As for her married life, well, that is settled into monotonous routine and Delia is often filled with doubts if love ever existed between the two.

Like every year, Delia and her family takes a vacation to a beach resort(not sure where exactly). One day she is taking a walk and before she realises, she finds herself far away from her family with no intention of going back....atleast for now...? She just walks out of their life and soon finds herself living another life with different people and at a place so far and so different from her own.

The idea of a woman walking out on her family might struck absurd to some but reading about Delia's life, I did not find this very idea offending at all. I genuinely felt that this random act, actually prooved to be good for her and for the readers too! As it is in this new place where one gets to meet the most bizare, the most amazing and the most lively characters.

The writing, as expected from Anne Tyler, is brilliant. What I love about Tyler's writing is that it's very real - she not only captures just the high level feelings and some major parts of life but even the every day mundane thoughts or events. This is the kind of stuff that other writers might not even think about penning down but Tyler does and that too beautifully.

What came as a pleasant surprise in this book was the humor. There were scenes when I laughed out loud...that too in public - after which I decided to never to read this book in public places.

Overall a great good-feel book. I did not love it as much as I loved A Spool of Blue Thread but immensly enjoyed it nonetheless. If you are an Anne Tyler fan, like me, you should definitely read it and in case you are not, you should anyways try it because this book will make you smile....often.
Profile Image for Melissa (Catch Up Mode).
4,562 reviews1,854 followers
June 22, 2020
2.5 stars, rounded up.
This book feels as if it is set in the 1950s rather than the 1990s. Delia's attitude is basically that she doesn't have a voice, or she doesn't choose to use it, she lets everyone bulldoze over her. From the first encounter with Adrian in the grocery store to her family, she just goes along with whatever, not even thinking about what she herself wants.
I guess that should mean I would cheer when she walks away, and I could have except for Carroll. I found it absolutely inexcusable that Delia could walk away from her fifteen-year-old son, and their encounter when he comes to see her is utterly heartbreaking, although she doesn't see it that way, she's too busy flitting around and letting everyone dominate her attention.
Maybe she did need to figure out who she was apart from her family/sisters. She had never really had that opportunity going straight from her father to her husband, in basically a similar role. Yet...what mother could walk away from her children without so much as a backward glance? We don't see remorse from her, we don't see her attempting to communicate with anyone other than her mother-in-law, and that's mostly because she had pursued Delia.
The writing is very good, Tyler is a master storyteller, I just didn't like the story and don't appreciate when there's not a character for me to champion and root for. I was probably supposed to do that with Delia, but for the reasons above I disliked her intensely. I liked that Sam called her out on it toward the end, but the ending is unsatisfying because I didn't see growth and change in Delia at all.
Profile Image for Lisette Brodey.
Author 17 books241 followers
January 11, 2009
It's been a long time since I read this book, but unfortunately it was my first Anne Tyler book and I did not care for it.

As a writer, I don't have a problem with almost any theme, because for me, it's how the story is told. Not everyone is going to like every book, no matter how well written, no matter how much mass appeal. Such is virtually impossible.

In this book, the main character, Delia Grinstead, decides to walk away from her life as she knows it. Delia is on the beach with her family and her husband says something, and suddenly, all of the pain of her past comes flooding back to her and she is compelled to flee life as she has known it. The problem is, I wasn't the least bit convinced. While I understand that what may seem like a simple infraction to some can be the straw that breaks the camel's back for another, Tyler failed to convince me that Delia was THAT angry. I kept feeling like the author just rushed through the writing of this book to get it finished.

There were also a series of improbable meetings (prior to "the big flee") of characters that I felt were just a little beaucoup too convenient. That forgiven, I felt that there were just way too many missed opportunities here. I wasn't very interested in this character and couldn't find myself caring either way. I've heard some great things about Tyler's other work, but this one didn't do it for me.
Profile Image for Claire.
650 reviews279 followers
May 13, 2015
Recommended to me as I was reading her latest A Spool of Blue Thread, a line that reappears in Ladder of Years even though it was written many years before.

Delia goes for a walk while on holiday with her family and walks right out of their life. Where she ends up, she begins to create another life, another version of herself, someone she has perhaps long wished to discover, the free woman, whom she never was before.

Along the way people she meets share their thoughts, circumstances, invitations and opinions, and they are often a reflection of Delia's own thoughts or what we perceive she may think about that which she has left. She doesn't have a lot to say about her motives, it is as if she acted without understanding the deep need inside her to move.

Brilliantly constructed and a compelling read, I really enjoyed the book and was intrigued right up until the last page.

My complete review here at Word by Word.
Profile Image for Aletha.
44 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2007
I believe I read this book right before Jesse and I got married. It was a long time ago.

I got it as a book club selection and fell in love instantly. There is something romantic about just quietly walking off one day, leaving it all behind to start anew. How would you get along without your comfortable life and surroundings? Could you do it on your own?

Would you go back?

Wow, I seem to like kidnappings and runaway stories. Hmmm do I have abandonment issues?

I read this book at least once a year. It has become a super quick read for me and whenever I find a copy at a used bookstore (my favorite type of bookstore!) I pick up a copy to give to a woman I know and love.
Profile Image for Sharon.
248 reviews101 followers
July 28, 2013
This book made me never want to get married, and never have kids.
Profile Image for Domenico Fina.
266 reviews77 followers
February 10, 2018
Le trame si ripetono, l'immaginazione è originale. In questo libro la protagonista prova a cambiare vita, ci riesce sì e no. Resta l'immaginazione, che è una realtà che sappiamo solo noi.
Profile Image for Libby.
581 reviews157 followers
June 6, 2010
Anne Tyler seems to have taken the title of her book “Ladder of Years,” from the following conversation relayed by Nat, a somewhat elderly character in the book who lives at Senior City. “See, I’ve always pictured life as one of those ladders you find on playground sliding boards - a sort of ladder of years where you climb higher and higher, and then, oops!, you fall over the edge and others move up behind you.”

Delia is the main character in the book, a 40 year old housewife married to a Doctor who sees patients out of their residence, and who has three children on the brink of leaving the nest. Delia as portrayed by Tyler reminds me of the June Cleaver kind of housewife who is so busy going about her daily duties that she forgets who she is and has even forgotten how to care for and about herself. Delia leaves her marriage and her children, turning her back on the identity she has forged for herself for twenty some years. The book explores what this leave taking means. For me the book is a little sleepy, but enjoyable and sets the wheels turning over important questions like the progression of life and relationships. Delia is not a character that I could identify readily with, because Delia seems to have lived a very constrained life, always living in the same house and never having a job other than helping her husband in his office. However, I enjoy the slow scenes where Delia spends a great deal of time by herself reading and finding a new life, reviewing her loved ones and memories from a distance. I love the way Tyler reveals so much in simple sentences, like “she had always been a false child, so eager to conform to the grown-ups’ view of her,” and the reader is able to see the cloud of conformity that has shadowed Delia throughout her life. It seems Delia could not see or at least admit to this until she’d actually stepped out of one life and into another. Interestingly enough, Delia builds an entire network of new relationships in her new life, but in her new life, she reveals none of her past. In this, Tyler reveals our very human need for relationships. Delia needed to step out from under her cloud of conformity, and her old life was too representative of all the things that had stifled her growth. The ending is a surprise as Delia returns home to her daughter’s wedding, and her left behind family is able to see her in a new way. Tyler does a wonderful job of creating three dimensional characters that support Delia’s quest. I especially like the fact that characters that are important to Delia’s development are runaway wife characters,….Rosemary….. Delia sneaks kisses with her left behind husband, Adrian Bly-Brice, and Ellie,….Delia sets up housekeeping to take care of Elle’s twelve year old son and left behind husband, Joel. For me, the ending of the book is unsatisfying, but perhaps that’s because it’s so understated. I wanted more of an emotional impact at the end of the book.
Profile Image for Karen.
123 reviews26 followers
May 17, 2011
This was a light and enjoyable read. I had a hard time relating to the protagonist, though. Delia is a 40-year-old Desperate Housewife of sorts who, fueled by some serious middle-age angst, abandons her family to finally discover the kind of person she wants to be. I found myself cheering Delia on while scoffing at her unbelievably sheltered, flighty, and childlike persona. I recognize that my critiques of her say something about me. As a twenty-something graduate student, settling down to have my first of four children at age 19 and never pursuing a career is the stuff of my nightmares. I might have kept walking down that coastline, too.

A minor complaint: many aspects of the novel felt anachronistic. I'm pretty sure the story is meant to take place in the early to mid-90s, but everything reads as so dated and quaint. Delia herself seems to be living in the '50s. And why doesn't she ever wear pants?
Profile Image for Asghar Abbas.
Author 4 books188 followers
August 15, 2020

Quirky, sure. But damn, I wanted to shake all the characters until their teeth rattle. So I guess, the book was effective. Yeah, there is that.
Profile Image for Karon Buxton.
256 reviews
January 27, 2019
Starts so well but oh dear ! Becomes so dull ! Life’s too short , didn’t care about the protagonist so gave up and it’s on the way to the Oxfam
book shop !
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