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.)