Ladder of Years

Ladder of Years

3.6 39
by Anne Tyler

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—Chicago Tribune

Anne Tyler tells the story of a forty-year-old woman, the mother of three almost grown children, who, on a sudden impulse, walks away from her marriage, hitches a ride into the unknown, and settles in a strange new town to invent a new life.

What propels


—Chicago Tribune

Anne Tyler tells the story of a forty-year-old woman, the mother of three almost grown children, who, on a sudden impulse, walks away from her marriage, hitches a ride into the unknown, and settles in a strange new town to invent a new life.

What propels Delia Grinstead, the wife of a Baltimore physician, as she is spending another rainy vacation with husband, children, and assorted relatives? Is it old hurts and humiliations that surface this particular summer? The feeling that she has become expendable? The memory, perhaps, of that angular young man in the supermarket who asked her to pose as his girlfriend when he runs into his ex-wife? Or is it simply the lure of the local repairman's beautifully self-sufficient van, sailing off, unencumbered? Whatever, Delia takes off, wearing only her swimsuit and her husband's beach robe, and doesn't stop until she is suddenly captivated by a quiet little tree-lined town. There she halts the van, hopes off, finds a room to rent, and settles in. So begins her new, impersonal life as Ms. Grinstead. But inevitable, the world crowds in. New friends, new responsibilities accumulate - from a stray cat who craves a hone to a sad, deserted husband, and his little boy who need her to fill a hole in their lives.

Once again, Anne Tyler dazzles us with her magic.

"TYLER DETAILS DELIA'S ADVENTURE WITH GREAT SKILL. . . . As so often in her earlier fiction, [she] creates distinct characters caught in poignantly funny situations. . . . Tyler writes with a claritythat makes the commonplace seem fresh and the pathetictouching."
—The New York Times

Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
Utterly compelling. . . wonderfully satisfying . . . virtually flawless.
Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
At 40, Delia Grinstead seems more likely to have an attack of anxiety, or of whimsy, than to become a runaway wife. Yet, in Tyler's beguiling novel, Delia's impulse to escape her disapproving physician husband and three surly children turns into an adventure that sweeps her from her staid Baltimore orbit into a new existence as Ms. Grinstead, spinster, in the Delaware community of Bay Borough. It's the unexamined life that's Delia's problem, and when she finally strips away layers of hurt, resentment, guilt and anger, she confronts her inner self and begins to deal with the chronic insecurity that has kept her childlike, flighty and dependent. Gradually, she becomes part of her new community, and has the courage to take a job caring for Noah Miller, an appealing 12-year-old whose mother has also run away from home and family. Over the course of a year, Delia discards her timorous personality and gains an understanding of the person she wants to be. One of the satisfactions of this novel is Tyler's evocation of typical family life. While in the past some of her characters have been too eccentric or fey, Delia and her family and friends all have both feet planted in the real world, even if their heads and hearts are sometimes elsewhere. Some readers may have difficulty accepting Delia's ability to absent herself from her children, but Tyler engages our sympathy and growing respect for a character who finally realizes that "the ladder of years" is a time trip to the future.
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.
Donna Seaman
elia Grinstead, the baby of the family, has lived all her 40 years in the same rambling Baltimore house. She doted on her father, a doctor, then married his assistant when she was only 17. A petite, freckled, self-effacing woman, Delia was the perfect mother and wife until her kids reached young adulthood, her husband started to seem like an old man, and she realized that she had become nearly invisible. So she leaves. She simply walks away and ends up in a small town where she creates a quiet new life for herself and discovers just exactly who she is. That's the bare-bones version of this charming, often hilarious, and astute novel. Tyler is in top form here. Her seemingly effortless prose is, like silk, rich in subtle hues and sheeny with dancing light. As Delia's quest for independence and respect unfolds, Tyler offers keen and provocative insights into the cycles of family life, shifting emotional needs, and the process of aging. She also presents us with the sort of quandary other personalities often evoke. We like and sympathize with Delia, but we'd also like to wring her neck. She's so stoic, so slow, so sexually tentative. Then again, we admire her determination, her generosity, her self-containment, her ability to change and forgive. People are difficult, Tyler tells us, but many are worth the trouble.

Product Details

Random House Large Print
Publication date:

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

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

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Ladder of Years 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Welcome, roleplayers! This is the cat mating place you read about in the reviews in Bluestar's Prophecy. Just go on ahead, and spread he word! ;D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
stellamaymarie More than 1 year ago
Often, we feel like taking a vaction from our whole lives. We can live that vacation with this book. Brilliant!
steveiewoolf More than 1 year ago
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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ejofca More than 1 year ago
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.
BargainHappyHunter More than 1 year ago
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?
summerwine More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
love it
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SuzeJones58 More than 1 year ago
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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