Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ladder of Years

Our discussion was a little different today in that I had the inspiration last night to email the questions to everyone in advance. I thought it made a much better discussion, though I'll admit I had my reservations. I thought that perhaps that would leave us with nothing to talk about, but I was glad when Mary said that she thought a couple of questions were hard and hoped someone else would have an answer to them.

The one thing I note in looking back over the hour is that we were more prepared to comment on the thread, and the discussion was more fluid, with there being fewer "aha" discovery moments. I think that reviewing the questions in advance opened up the discussion to personal relevance as well, i.e., women doing things alone being perceived differently than men doing the same, as in eating in a restaurant or ordering a drink. We talked about the vulnerability of women and societal expectations of marriage after high school, then and now, and educational opportunities. It was nice to have Jessi bring a young voice into the mix.

Most of us have read other works by Anne Tyler so were familiar with her passive protagonists. We were frustrated by the lack of character development yet had to admire her deft writing skills in rendering them so. Oh, and before I forget, our favorite characters were Belle followed by Eleanor, and yes, we liked the book.

Carolyn and I had both read this when it came out new in 1995 and we agreed that, while we remembered liking it, rereading it was nothing like we had remembered it at all. Joanne was tearing her hair out at how easy it was for Delia to walk away from Joel and Noah after repeatedly reassuring them that she'd be right back. Kathy wanted to strangle her for giving in so easily to Sam. She said "all you had to do was ask" and then slid under the sheets, not realizing that he had never asked. Near the end of the discussion, Kathy reintroduced the thought of Sam and who he was to his mother, Eleanor, and who he was to himself. Kathy said he appeared in the end to be a broken man. This was Delia's story, but what about Sam?

And then there was Nat and Binky - what was that part of the story all about anyway?! We wondered about Nat showing up at Delia's, while Joel and Noah were at the same time calling to see when she was coming back. What exactly was Nat doing so far from home and what he did hope Delia could do for him?

We asked, what if anything had changed. Delia thought that she, unlike Nat had had a successful time travel, but did she? We noted that Joel and Sam were similar men, rigid and unbending. What about her father? Tyler introduced a lot of characters and left a lot hanging, like Linda and Ramsey. Carolyn said Noah was on the brink of becoming the new Carroll, and Joel on the brink of the becoming the new Sam, if she had stayed. Tyler had written Joel, Ellie and Noah in as a shadow of Delia's family, but we weren't clear on what the import of the parallel. Ellie told Delia she wanted to go back home. Would Joel ask her, or would she ask Joel? Any more than Sam would ask Delia or Delia ask Sam?

Since Delia didn't apparently plan to "abdicate," we thought it was fortunate that she did have the vacation money to seed her new life. Why, though, when her family knew where she was, did none of them ask her to come home? And why was she so popular in her new life when she was a shadow in her original life? I think we wore out from exhaustion before we were able to answer the questions. This book is part of college curricula and has it's own Cliff notes, so I think we did well in spite of ourselves.

If you read the book but weren't able to attend the discussion, please add your thoughts to the comments.