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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ladder of Years

I stumbled upon an amazing book this weekend: Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years. It’s the story about a forty-something woman who abandons her seemingly well-ordered family life without a clear plan (or even a very clear reason) and finds some great adventures in the process of finding herself. It starts out as a typical - but still interesting - coming-of-age novel, from the point of view of a woman who has spent her life being a homemaker-receptionist for a successful doctor husband. The husband treats her with a mixture of vague disinterest and mild condescension, and you find yourself rooting for her when she walks out of a family vacation on the beach, even as you suspect that there is more to the story than meets the eye. I love this style of fiction - when the narrator is a part of the story, and is hiding critical character flaws, showing people through a less than objective lens, until you learn to see through the clever sleight of hand, and are able to say with glee - Aha! So things aren't really what they seem! Zoe Heller did it in Notes on a Scandal - another book that I read this month with an equal mixture of amazement and unease.

But Ladder of Years is more than just a clever book. It is a winner because of the empathy you feel for the people in the book. It has been a long time since I've had the reaction that I did two hours into this book: I looked down at the progress bar and noticed that I had already finished 30% of the book, and groaned aloud - "Oh no! I was so hoping it was going to be a longer book!" I knew I was going to miss Delia when she starts to walk to the town's small library at five pm every evening to take exactly one book to read in bed. She's very worried the day she realizes that the large font of that day's book would mean that it would not last her till her bedtime; and so she consciously slows down in her reading, and decides to notice the people in the restaurant that she has been eating at for the past several weeks.

I don't want to give anything away; let me just say that the book is full of moments and people that stay with you long after you've sighed over the last page. And I know I will read this book again, more than a few times. But first I'm going to read every Anne Tyler that I can lay my hand on. By a minor coincidence, I read her Noah's Compass last week, and loved that one too. 


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