Novel Excerpts: Back When We Were Grownups

Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups (2001) is exquisite.

“Her dream was the kind that lingered, coloring the whole morning. Bits of it rose like dust from her pillows when she plumped them — a sense of travel, a sense of longing. When she heard the harmonica sound of a train whistle from Penn Station, she felt a little pinch of loneliness deep in her chest.”

“She’d been fielding calls like this from the early days of her marriage, because the Davitches were notoriously mistrustful of the telephone. … Whenever the phone rang, they spent an inordinate amount of time debating: ‘Who can it be?’ ‘It’s not for me.’ ‘Well, I’m not expecting anyone.’ ‘You get it.’ ‘No, it’s your turn.’ Often, the caller hung up before they got around to answering. They dreaded placing calls, as well, and would put them off for days. Monday, Phone liquor store, the kitchen calendar read; Tuesday,  Phone liquor store; Wednesday, Phone liquor store.”

“What kept her mother going, these days? Her life seemed so stagnant: the tea-and-toast breakfast, the few dishes washed and dried afterward, the bedclothes pulled up, the carpet sweeper rolled across an already immaculate carpet …

“Well, what kept anyone going? Who was Rebecca to talk?”

“It had occurred to her, often, that the way to win your family’s worshipful devotion was to abandon them. … Distance was the key, here: the distant, alluring mystery woman whose edges had not been worn dull by the constant minor abrasions of daily contact.”

“She saw him prepare to say no again, but she pressed on. ‘Monopoly? Checkers? Clue? …’

“Peter said, ‘I don’t care.'” …

“Oh, Lord, she thought, life was so wearing. Still, she forced herself to persist. ‘Scrabble? Parcheesi?’ she asked ….”

“‘I think botched cakes are a Davitch tradition. You should have seen my wedding cake! Mother Davitch didn’t bake it long enough and it was all soupy in the middle. The bride figurine on top fell into this sort of sinkhole, waist deep.'”

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