Ladder of Years (Magill Book Reviews)
LADDER OF YEARS tells the story of Cordelia (Delia) Grinstead, who walks away from her Baltimore family vacationing at the beach in Delaware. She hops a ride to the nearby town of Bay Borough, named not for a body of water but George Pendle Bay, who deserted the Union Army because of a dream. This account of the town’s founding, a nice example of Tyler’s whimsy, parallels Delia’s own history. Before deserting her family, Delia tries to compensate for her unhappy marriage by flirting with an affair cut to the pattern of the romance novels she reads. Like Bay, she wakes from her delusion, but does not escape it.
Unfortunately, neither does the book. It remains far too much Delia’s wish-fulfillment fantasy. In Baltimore she has a family that takes her for granted. In Bay Borough, on the other hand, where she becomes spare, indispensable Miss Grinstead, everyone appreciates her, especially the school principal and his son, who quickly make her one of the family. Her biggest fan is the boy’s grandfather, Nat, a lively old man with a young, pregnant wife. He not only generates the book’s title and much homespun wisdom, but unwavering support for Delia. He appears to speak for Tyler; there is almost no recognition of Delia’s responsibility for accepting her years of unhappiness.
Tyler draws distinct and eccentric characters, but they never interact believably. When Delia returns after a year away, for example, her teenage son shrugs off...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Ladder of Years (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
For much of Ladder of Years, Anne Tyler escapes Baltimore, her usual locale, but she never strays far from familiar territory. As always, families both strengthen and suffocate, children writhe with neediness and resentment, possessions and routine weigh people down but give continuity, and love flourishes amid irreconcilable differences. The author’s fans will relish the novel’s prose, lucid and restrained but delightfully well observed. Given Tyler’s mastery of dialogue and detail, distinctive characters abound, sprung on the reader with rapid-fire inventiveness, while the narrative unfolds with delicate, even whimsical precision.
Ladder of Years begins with Cordelia Grinstead, childlike despite her age, lost in thought at a grocery store. Passive, introverted, and longing for romance, “Delia” accedes to a stranger’s request to pose as his girlfriend. Taken with this young man, Adrian Bly-Brice, who resembles her first boyfriend, she will soon succumb to a destabilizing infatuation.
Adrian edits a quarterly about time travel called Hurry Up, Please—a telling detail in a novel that examines human resistance to time. The young hurry to inhabit an idealized future, miring themselves in fantasy, while the old long to travel back in time. This is what Delia will do, climbing down life’s ladder to late adolescence, her last time of unadulterated happiness—and trust in men. She will acquire patience and...
(The entire section is 1868 words.)