November 1, 2010

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

This month's Monthly Read was Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler.  The story takes place in New England where Delia, a wife and mother of three decides to run away from home.  Delia's children are practically all grown, her youngest is 15.  She begins to feel that no one needs her anymore and that she's really just a nuisance to her family.  While the family is on their annual vacation at the beach, Delia runs away.  She hops into an RV with a repair man and rides until something struck her and he had him drop her off in a town she had never been to.  Instead of calling a family member to come get her, she starts her life over in this town.  She starts over with nothing.  She has little money, no clothes (she wandered off wearing her bathing suit), no idea what she's doing.  She finds a job, a place to live and for a year and a half, lives the life of a "spinster".  Her sister visits her once, her children don't call, her husband makes no attempt (aside from a single letter) to bring her home.  She goes to work as a live in maid/nanny for a single father and his 12 year old boy.  She starts to have feelings for the man.  Just in time, she hears from her daughter, who is going to get married, and returns home for the wedding.  She swoops in and helps take care of a crisis, makes meals and never goes back to her new life.

I have heard wonderful things about Anne Tyler, her books and her writing.  I'm hoping that this book was not typical of her works.  I did enjoy the characters and all their flaws (and all of them are flawed).  However, they're almost flawed to the point that it drove me crazy that I wasn't able to smack some of them.

I can relate to wanting to run away.  I think that at some point, the thought crosses the minds of most mothers.  Most mothers, though, don't act on it.  If I were to run away, it would be to live a more exciting life.  Delia runs away to live the most boring, mundane life I've ever heard of.  She does the same thing every day, eats at the same places, and tries to avoid getting close to anyone.  I'm not sure how she managed to keep from running home screaming after the first week.  This goes on for almost a year and half.  Of course, after a while, she does break out of her shell a little, she talks to people and takes the job in a fairly normal household. 

For a year and a half, Delia's family makes very few attempts to see her or contact her at all.  She has one visit from her sister and one visit from one of her kids.  Her husband only writes her one letter and they only speak on the phone one time.  This was something I don't understand at all.  How could she, as a mother stay away that long and not even visit with her family?  How could her family not make a serious attempt to find out what is wrong, why she left and make an attempt to bring her home?  The sad thing about this is throughout this whole year and a half, she remarks several times about wanting to be asked to come home.  That's all it would have taken.  A single "I love you, I need you , I miss you" from her husband and things would have been back to normal.  It never happened.  I find this so unbelievable, that people can be this way.  I'm not an emotional person, but if my husband just wandered off one day without so much as a goodbye, at some point i think i could manage an i love you or i miss you. 

When Delia finally returns home for her daughter's wedding, a crisis occurs and she reluctantly helps out.  Her daughter's fiancee points out that he finds it bizarre the way the whole family never deals with anything, they just act like nothing ever happened.  I think this is when Delia decides to stay with her family.I think she realizes that this is how she taught her family to be, yet, this is the reason she stayed away so long, the one thing she didn't want them to do.

In the end, she just goes and crawls back into bed with her husband.  Nothing is resolved, nothing is discussed, they presumably  just go back to the way things were.  I find this so frustrating because while she was gone, she realized that there were all these problems with her marriage and her life, she discovered all these reasons she was so unhappy.  She walked away from everything she knew for a year and a half, even though she didn't know the reasons for it at the time she did it, she knew the reasons by the time she went home.  She just walked right back into her life without explaining this to anyone, asking for change from anyone.  What was the point?  Sure, she seemed to know herself a little better, perhaps that was the point, but it doesn't do much good if no one else understands her any better.  If you walk away from your life because you're unhappy, I would expect some kind of change, some kind of compromise before returning.

The book wasn't terrible.  It held my attention most of the time and was a pretty fast read.  I did enjoy it, even if it was frustrating.  I suppose the truth of the matter is that all humans are flawed and all humans are, at some point, frustrating.  I would recommend it for vacation reading or for a time when you just want a quick read.  If you are a mother, I reccommend it because it will make you think about your own life.

I realize this isn't the best book review and I appologise for that.  With all the stress we've had lately, I have had a hard time focusing on anything.  I promise that whether we win or lose tomorrow or whatever the next month brings, next month's review will be better!   If you read the book, please feel free to link to your discussion or leave your thoughts in the comments.

Next month's Monthly Read:  Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells


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