Ladder of Years

( 38 )

Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
BALTIMORE WOMAN DISAPPEARS DURING FAMILY VACATION, declares the headline. Forty-year-old Delia Grinstead is last seen strolling down the Delaware shore, wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and carrying a beach tote with five hundred dollars tucked inside. To her husband and three almost-grown children, she has vanished without trace or reason. But for Delia, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family's edges, "walking away from it ...

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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
BALTIMORE WOMAN DISAPPEARS DURING FAMILY VACATION, declares the headline. Forty-year-old Delia Grinstead is last seen strolling down the Delaware shore, wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and carrying a beach tote with five hundred dollars tucked inside. To her husband and three almost-grown children, she has vanished without trace or reason. But for Delia, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family's edges, "walking away from it all" is not a premeditated act, but an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting, and unimagined life . . . .
"TYLER DETAILS DELIA'S ADVENTURE WITH GREAT SKILL . . . As so often in her earlier fiction—Celestial Navigation, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, and her nine other novels—[she] creates distinct characters caught in poignantly funny situations. . . .Tyler writes with a clarity that makes the commonplace seem fresh and the pathetic touching."
—The New York Times
"UTTERLY COMPELLING. . .WONDERFULLY SATISFYING. . .Ladder of Years is virtually flawless."
—Chicago Tribune
"A 'PAGE-TURNER' IN THE BEST SENSE . . . One wants to lightly caress the pages of the story because one cares for Ms. Tyler's touchingly flawed characters. . . . Both madcap and genteel, Anne Tyler knows as well as anyone that 'human beings lead many lives.' Casually, delightfully, Ladder of Years will tell you just how we humans manage this trick."
—The Baltimore Sun

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
Utterly compelling. . . wonderfully satisfying . . . virtually flawless.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This novel of a housewife's escape spent 17 weeks on PW's bestseller list.
Library Journal
In Tyler's 13th novel, Celia Grinstead inexplicably walks out on her family.
Library Journal
In Tyler's 13th novel, Celia Grinstead inexplicably walks out on her family.
Chicago Tribune
Utterly compelling. . . wonderfully satisfying . . . virtually flawless.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780449910573
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/1/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 342,647
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.27 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her 17th novel. Her 11th, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. A member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Biography

Anne Tyler has had a very active imagination all her life. When she was a young girl, she would spend an hour or two after being put to bed every night fantasizing that she was a doctor. She imagined conversations with patients, and pictured their lives as she did so, considering both their illnesses and the intricacies of their backgrounds. She constructed little mental plays around these characters that she would whisper to herself in the dark -- much to the chagrin of her brother, with whom she shared a room. "[H]e used to call out to our parents, ‘Anne's whispering again!'" she once told Barnes & Noble.com. As much as she may have vexed her brother, she also believes that these fantasies helped her to develop into the beloved, award-winning novelist she is today.

Tyler's work is characterized by a meticulous attention to detail, a genuine love of her characters, and a quirky sense of humor. Her public persona is characterized by its own quirks, as well. She refuses to grant face-to-face interviews. She has never publicly read from any of her books. She does not do book signings or tours. All of this has lent a certain mystique to her novels, although Tyler has said that her reluctance to become a public figure status is actually the result of simple shyness, not to mention her desire for her writing to speak for itself. Fortunately, Anne Tyler's work speaks with a clear, fully-realized voice that does not require unnecessary elucidation by the writer.

Tyler published her first novel If Morning Ever Comes in 1964, and that singular voice was already in place. This astute debut that tracks the self-realization of a young man named Ben Joe Hawkins displayed Tyler's characteristic wit and gentle eccentricity right off the bat. Harper's declared the novel "a triumph," and Tyler was on her way to creating an impressive catalog of novels chronicling the every day hopes, fears, dreams, failures, and victories of small-town Americans. Having come of age, herself, in rural North Carolina, Tyler had particular insight into the lives of her characters. Each novel was a little shimmering gem, winning her a devoted following and public accolades that more than compensated for her refusal to appear in public. Her novel Earthly Possessions, the story of a housewife who is taken hostage by a young man during a bank robbery, was released the same year she won an award for "literary excellence and promise of important work to come" from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The book also went on to become a television movie starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff in 1999.

However, the most well-known adaptation of one of Tyler's novels arrived more than a decade earlier when The Accidental Tourist was made into an Academy Award winning film starring Geena Davis and William Hurt. Consequently, The Accidental Tourist is viewed by some as Tyler's signature novel, covering many of the writer's favorite themes: the push and pull of marriage, the appearance of a romantic eccentric, personal tragedy, and the quest to escape from the drudgery of routine. The Accidental Tourist won the National Book Critics Circle Award and hit number one on The New York Times Bestseller list.

Three years later, Tyler received the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, which further explored themes of marriage and self-examination. Despite having won the prestigious Pulitzer, Tyler still refused to allow herself to be drawn into the spotlight. Quietly, contemplatively, she chose to continue publishing a sequence of uniformly fine novels, including Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, and The Amateur Marriage.

Anne Tyler's novel Digging to America reexamines many of her chief obsessions, while also possibly drawing upon a personal triumph -- her marriage to Iranian psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Mohammad Modarressi -- and the tragedy of his death in 1997. Digging to America follows the relationship between two families, the Iranian Yazdans and the all-American Donaldsons, as they become closer and closer and affect each other deeper and deeper over a succession of years. Digging to America is arguably Tyler's deepest and most profound work to date. It also delivers more of her peculiar brand of humor, which will surely please her longtime fans, thrilled that she continues spinning tales with the trademark attention to character that has distinguished her stories ever since she was a little girl, whispering to herself in the dark. Tyler may have decided to remain in the dark and out of the public eye, but the stories she has to tell have shed more than their share of light on the lives of her readers.

Good To Know

Tyler first began writing stories at the innocent age of seven. At the time, most of her yarns involved, as she has said, "lucky, lucky girls who got to go west in covered wagons."

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 25, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Duke University, 1961

Foreword

1. Why did Delia walk away from her family on that Delaware beach? And why did she stay away for so long?

2.Delia has always lived in a very crowded house. Discuss the pressures and rewards of several generations living under one roof.

3.Why doesn’t any member of Delia’s family ask her to come home? Do you think it would have made a difference?

4.Discuss how the world Dr. Felson once inhabited changes after his death.

5.Do you think the father’s death has freed the Felson sisters in some way?

6.Do you think Linda’s relationship with Sam mirrors her relationship with her father?

7.Delia and Ellie are both judged harshly for their decision to leave their families. Do you think society judges mothers more harshly than fathers if they leave?

8.At the beginning of the novel, Delia sees herself as “a tiny gnat, whirring around her family’s edges”? How does her perspective change over the course of the novel?

9.Eliza insists that Delia has memories of their mother and Delia is incensed that Sam does not remember their very first meeting. Discuss the conflict that arises in this novel over the individualistic and idiosyncratic nature of family history and memory.

10.At the end of the novel, Delia concludes that “the people she had left behind had actually traveled further, in some ways.” What does she mean?

11.Delia concludes that “[u]nlike Nat’s . . . hers had been a time trip that worked.” Do you agree?

12.Do you think Nat and Binky will persevere despite all the obstacles in their path?

13.Delia has to learn how to dine out alone.What other kinds of public activities are awkward to do solo? Does it differ for men and for women?

14.Belle says, “[M]ost folks marry just because they decide they’ve reached that stage . . . Then they pick someone out.” Do you agree?

15.Do you think Eliza has been pining for Sam for all those years?

16.Delia finds support in unexpected places and from unexpected people. Did Eleanor’s support surprise you?

17.Eleanor tells Delia that after her husband’s death reading the dictionary comforted and distracted her. Discuss rituals and habits that offer comfort in times of need.

18.What do you think of the ending of this novel? Does it make emotional sense to you?

19.Share your favorite description of a character with the group.

20.What would you ask the author if you could interview her?

21.Did your group enjoy this novel? How does it compare with other works your group has read?

22.What is your group reading next? How do you make your selections?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Why did Delia walk away from her family on that Delaware beach? And why did she stay away for so long?

2.Delia has always lived in a very crowded house. Discuss the pressures and rewards of several generations living under one roof.

3.Why doesn’t any member of Delia’s family ask her to come home? Do you think it would have made a difference?

4.Discuss how the world Dr. Felson once inhabited changes after his death.

5.Do you think the father’s death has freed the Felson sisters in some way?

6.Do you think Linda’s relationship with Sam mirrors her relationship with her father?

7.Delia and Ellie are both judged harshly for their decision to leave their families. Do you think society judges mothers more harshly than fathers if they leave?

8.At the beginning of the novel, Delia sees herself as “a tiny gnat, whirring around her family’s edges”? How does her perspective change over the course of the novel?

9.Eliza insists that Delia has memories of their mother and Delia is incensed that Sam does not remember their very first meeting. Discuss the conflict that arises in this novel over the individualistic and idiosyncratic nature of family history and memory.

10.At the end of the novel, Delia concludes that “the people she had left behind had actually traveled further, in some ways.” What does she mean?

11.Delia concludes that “[u]nlike Nat’s . . . hers had been a time trip that worked.” Do you agree?

12.Do you think Nat and Binky will persevere despite all the obstacles in their path?

13.Delia has to learn how to dine out alone. What other kinds of public activities are awkward to do solo? Does it differ for men and for women?

14.Belle says, “[M]ost folks marry just because they decide they’ve reached that stage . . . Then they pick someone out.” Do you agree?

15.Do you think Eliza has been pining for Sam for all those years?

16.Delia finds support in unexpected places and from unexpected people. Did Eleanor’s support surprise you?

17.Eleanor tells Delia that after her husband’s death reading the dictionary comforted and distracted her. Discuss rituals and habits that offer comfort in times of need.

18.What do you think of the ending of this novel? Does it make emotional sense to you?

19.Share your favorite description of a character with the group.

20.What would you ask the author if you could interview her?

21.Did your group enjoy this novel? How does it compare with other works your group has read?

22.What is your group reading next? How do you make your selections?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 38 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(15)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2003

    Thank you, Anne Tyler

    As a 45 year old man, I found Delia to be expressing my emotions perfectly. And since she has, now I don't need to leave my wife of 23 years. I admire Tyler's courage and skill in portraying the nagging unfulfillment and downright rejection we feel in our marriages and families, while still believing in the power of marriage and family to connect and support each other.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2013

    Eah.

    This book was too slow paced and predictable. I reccomend it for adults, because they would most likely understand married life better, but it is good for young adults and teens too. There is some intimate kissing, but no sex,if that's what your worried about. I didnt think it was worth the money, but you might disagree. Try it and see. You might enjoy it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014

    Great book club read. A must.

    Book club selection. Enjoyed by all. Our group rated the book 4.5. We all felt that we could relate to the main character even if we could not agree on how she handled the situation.

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  • Posted March 21, 2014

    Often, we feel like taking a vaction from our whole lives. We ca

    Often, we feel like taking a vaction from our whole lives. We can live that vacation with this book. Brilliant!

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  • Posted September 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Cordelia Grinstead is a wife and mother to three children. Her h

    Cordelia Grinstead is a wife and mother to three children. Her husband Sam, a doctor, recently suffered a heart attack, (though Delia, as she is commonly known, refers to it as chest pains). At or about the same time her father died after Delia had cared for him for some time in her own home.
    Her children are all teenagers and have become more independent and less reliant on their mother. Delia’s husband has become distant and less attentive. Delia has becoming unsure of her role as a mother, a wife and in the world in general.
    While on the annual family holiday with her family and her sisters, Eliza and Linda and the latter’s children, Delia asks a young man who was working on the holiday home to drive her to a place she knows nothing of. She asks the young man to stop at a small town and there she begins a new life with only the possessions she is wearing and what is within her tote bag.
    On the surface, The Ladder of Years appears to be a run of the mill novel about a middle aged woman going through the proverbial mid-life crisis. This appearance seems justified when you throw stroppy, mumbling, uncommunicative teenagers and an inattentive older husband in to the mix.
    However, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Anne Tyler has written a novel that defies cliché, stereotype and one’s preconceived ideas of what a woman’s mid-life crisis looks like. A clever choice on Anne Tyler’s part was to write the book in the third person. It would have been easier to have written the novel in the first person and allow us the reader to get a better and easier understanding of Delia’s motives and thoughts on her behaviour. But writing the novel in the third person puts the reader at a slight distance from Delia so making it harder to empathize or sympathize with her. It makes the reader have to work that bit harder in getting to understand Delia and her reasoning and in this process makes the reading of the novel that much more satisfying.
    I also believe that writing in the third person allows many male readers to follow Delia’s character without feelings of being uncomfortable in their male skin than had the novel been written in the first person. It is possible that many male readers would have found it uncomfortable or off putting to follow the character had they had access to her inner thoughts and feelings. By writing in the third person male readers are allowed to keep their distance and not made to feel that they inhabit a female persona. 
    All the characters within The Ladder of Years are rounded three dimensional people and as a reader I felt that I knew and understood each of the novel’s inhabitants by the end of the book. This knowing and understanding is from the perspective of a friend of the family and not as a family member. By this I mean that as much as I believed I knew the character’s motives and reasons for what they did and how they lived I still couldn’t be sure I was getting the full picture. This I believe was intentional on the author’s part. I believe that Anne Tyler was trying to communicate that we never fully know someone else even when they are family. There are times in our lives when we feel like we are an outsider within our own family group looking in through a window that becomes more opaque as time moves on.
    Anne Tyler’s novel is a well crafted moving and at times funny novel that will not disappoint any reader, even the male of the species. 




    Number of pages – 326
    Sex scenes – none
    Profanity – none
    Genre – drama/fiction

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  • Posted September 13, 2011

    I loved it to a point -- and then I didn't

    I found this story to be a page-turner. I could relate to her, immature though she was. But she had her reasons for leaving. It got a bit unbelievable, just drifting, not really making any decision. On the other hand, I could go along with this fantasy of just starting over, remaking oneself. The end, however, was not satisfactory. We are left hanging. I suppose I should have expected just such an ending; but it is sad, not satisfactory.

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  • Posted July 28, 2011

    Love this story

    I read this story many years ago and loved it. Although I was much younger I identified with the lack of identity suffered by the main character. Selfish her actions may have been but who has not at least dreamed of reinventing themselves?

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  • Posted July 26, 2011

    Eeeh...just okay.

    I have to say, I could actually relate to the main character of this book, but only to a point. The story is of a passage into independence and liberation for a woman who has never experienced either in her lifetime. I couldn't get over the feeling of abandonment for her family. The manner in which she took this journey was intensely selfish. The ending was truly unbelievable and unsatisfying.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2011

    love it

    love it

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Writer Matures

    It's been a number of years since I last read Anne Tyler. She's a Baltimorean and for all intents and purposes I am as well.

    Some years ago I got a little tired of her characters. However when I returned to her books with Ladder of Years, I found that not only had Tyler's writing matured, but so had her characters. Truth be told, we have all matured in the past 20+ years or since I first read a book by Tyler (probably Accidental Tourist).

    Her characters still exhibit a muted or--flat--affect, even. But I think this makes more sense now than it did with some of the younger characters in her earlier books. Their lack of intensity in spite of great upheavals in their lives either suits these particular characters better or suits older, more middle-aged characters better.

    Funny, but there is a Thanksgiving dinner scene in Ladder as there is in Accidental Tourist -- how's that for consistency over the years?!?

    I read Ladder because the scenes and main character appealed to me. The story takes place in Ocean City and Roland Park -- places I know well. As it happens, I finished reading Ladder during a brief trip 'down the ocean! There couldn't have been anything better than to have been curled up near the beach and reading about the very place!

    The main character, Delia, is one I could relate to -- albeit only somewhat. What busy and somewhat foraken mother hasn't wanted to escape it all, if only briefly, at some point?

    I encourage you to read Ladder of Years!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2006

    Pointless and no character development

    I have no idea as how this book received time magazine's book of year when this book was published. There is no character development, the events at the beginning of the book are completely unbelieveable, and the book is mostly diaglogue. After plodding halfway through the book I just stopped reading it as the turn of events became too predictable and I could start to figure out what was going to happen. I shouldn't be too surprised that this book was so bad, this author publishes so many book the quality of the stories and characters eventually has to decline.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2006

    Novel fiction by Tyler

    Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years is, well, not quite what I expected. . . I will just say that it doesn't measure up to The Accidental Tourist. However, her characters, excluding Delia's immediate family, are completely lovable. A good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2004

    My absolute favorite Anne Tyler!

    The story of Delia and her family (actual one and the one she creates for herself) is my absolute favorite Anne Tyler book. Is there anyone on the planet who hasn't daydreamed about just walking away and leaving it all behind? I don't know why this book spoke to me in such an eloquent way...but it did and I am forever glad. Thank you Anne Tyler.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2004

    Ladder of Years a lesson in Life...

    Anne Tyler's novel is really about the 'rebirth' of the main character as she reacts to the changes in her life and the death of her father. Although not realistic with regards to her 'walking away' from her life...she gives the readers a chance to slip into her shoes and see how much we are needed and need those in our life. It is also about taking a good look around your own life to sort out what is important and what is not.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2003

    A Story of Self Worth

    The story of Delia made me think about the people in my own life. Her story was sad, really, in that she was so taken-for-granted by her family. In Ladder of Years, she was able to find herself, build a sense of self worth, and show that she could survive quite well on her own. Ever since reading this, I've made much more of an effort to appreciate those in my own family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2003

    touching and real

    The simple life Delia leads, the confused and confusing mix of emotions she feels...these are what make this book great. The blurred lines--what should Delia do? what does she deserve?--these blurred lines are what people are made of. I was happy to see it in writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2001

    hard to put down

    I found that once i got into the story i hardly put it down. the characters are so believable that i myself wishing that i could just walk away like delia. the story is not hard to follow and descriptions make the imagination run wild.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2001

    not quite outstanding, but definately worth the effort

    Ladder of Years is one of those books that English teachers love. For the average reader however, it seems a bit ... pointless. Sure it has beautiful language and complex characters, but PLEASE just give me more of a plot! I want a buildup! I want a climax! A Resolution! But for the english teacher within me, (although I really am not an english teacher), I can certainly appreciate its beauty. The book seems to answer the question of 'What happens at the end of Ibsen's play 'A Doll's House''?. Once Nora leaves her family to grow up on her own, what does she do? Delia's answers this question with her own story. However, Sam isn't quite as domineering as Torvald, simply misunderstood. And as with most books, everything seems to be rooted in the fact that Delia's mother died when she was young. It's hard to be critical of Delia as she walks out on her family when the novel is told from her point of view, but the reader can't stop wondering about how the children must feel about their fickle mom. It seems as if all the women are either trying to find men or run away from men, but none are actually happy with the men they have. And all the men are misunderstood in their less-than-satisfactory efforts to be the 'perfect' husband for these women who cannot be satisfied. And the conclusion? Well. There is more to be desired of the conclusion. (sorry for the spoiler here). One way to look at it is that Delia has finally become an adult and sought out her own life, and so is able to return to her family as a wife, parent, and adult. But what about Joel and Noah? Is she really healing herself, or simply unconsciously following her pattern of leaving others? Surely it is a different situation with Delia as a whole new person, but suddenly the reader is once again stuck with feelings of sympathy for Joel and Noah, and conflicted with either feeling glad or critical of Delia.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2000

    Inspiring and uplifting

    Watching Delia Grinstead, a former 'it-girl' in high school and married, living in her childhood home, simply walk away from her no-longer-seeming-to-need-her family without any clue as to the future was truly inspirational. I had to cheer for her! The inner theme of the book of time travel of sorts shows as Delia goes out on her own for the very first time, gets her own job, meets a man with a child, then sees her own family. The trip works for Delia, who ends up back where she started but with a lot more knowledge. An excellent novel!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews

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