(a book review originally posted November 24, 2006)

I’ve read and enjoyed many Anne Tyler books. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant has always been my favorite. I just finished Ladder of Years and it almost manages to, but does not quite, surpass Homesick Restaurant as my top Tyler pick.

In this book, Tyler indulges the reader with a “starting over” fantasy. Her protagonist, Baltimore housewife Delia Grinstead simply walks away from her family while they’re vacationing at the Delaware shore and on impulse catches a ride inland to Bay Borough, a small Eastern Shore town chosen at random, where she proceeds (almost on autopilot, it seems) to find a room, a job and a new life.

There’s so much about Ladder of Years that’s quintessentially Anne Tyler: the crazy extended family, who are either still living in or can’t quite separate themselves emotionally from the house in Baltimore where they grew up; the rich complexity of each new character Delia encounters as she sets about beginning her life over “from scratch” in the guise of her new alter-ego, “Miss Grinstead”; the priceless descriptions of people and those odd, funny or uncomfortable moments that occur between them.

Delia’s adventures make an engrossing journey of self-discovery, but Ladder of Years is about choices, and Delia eventually must choose between her old life in Baltimore and her new one in Bay Borough. Unfortunately, the ending comes off a bit too pat and leaves so much unresolved, it took some of the high gloss off this story for me. But it’s still a great read that came so close to being my new favorite Anne Tyler book that I’d give it four stars out of five.


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