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Original Essays | July 22, 2014

Nick Harkaway: IMG The Florist-Assassins

The three men lit up in my mind's eye, with footnotes. They were converging on me — and on the object I was carrying — in a way that had... Continue »
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    Nick Harkaway 9780385352413


Back When We Were Grownups (Ballantine Reader's Circle)


Back When We Were Grownups (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Cover



Author Q & A

Q: What was the genesis of this novel? Did a particular character

or situation come to mind first?

AT: I plotted Back When We Were Grownups just after emerging

from a year in which there had been several losses and serious illnesses

in my family. I wanted my next novel to be full of joy and

celebration, which is how I ended up with a main character who

earned her living throwing parties.

That a sense of loss shows through anyway, at a later point in

the book, is proof that the subconscious always tends to triumph in

the end.

Q: Why did you choose this title for the novel? Were there others

that you discarded along the way?

AT: It's one of my few organic, natural-born titles; it was always

there, on its own

Q: Has Rebecca really become the wrong person?

AT: Well, of course she's become a different person. But not the

wrong one, as it turns out.

Q: Why is it so difficult for Rebecca to see that she chose Joe

and the Davitches just as they chose her?

AT: Rebecca is no more astute--or less--than most of us about her

reasons for doing things. If people were fully conscious of their

motives, novelists wouldn't have anything to write novels about.

Q: Would you agree that Rebecca is unaware, on some important

level, that she has become the center of the Davitch family?

AT: Yes. She's a very modest and unassuming woman; it wouldn't

occur to her that she could be so important to other people.

Q: Has Rebecca finally come to terms with the family and the

life she ended up with? Will she ever stop feeling like an outsider,

like a not-a-Davitch?

AT: The point at which I decide a novel is finished is the point

where I say, "My character has arrived, and I can picture him or her

more or less settled there forever." So yes, by the end of the book

she has come to terms with her life. (She's still not-a-Davitch, but

that's immaterial.)

Q: Did Rebecca ever have a chance to truly mourn Joe, given

the incredible responsibilities that were thrust upon her with his


AT: Even with all those responsibilities, she did mourn--but I

think of it as a kind of stupor of mourning, unlike the more

reflective kind of grief that she experiences toward the end of the


Q: Poppy refuses to hide his grief over his dead wife, which perturbs

many of the Davitches. Is his behavior, like the constant

reciting of Aunt Joyce's funeral poem, troubled or simply


AT: I certainly didn't mean to imply he was troubled. This is his

particular response to loss--the opposite, or maybe the underside,

of Rebecca's response to her own loss.

Q: Rebecca thinks she would have stayed with Will if Joe had

not swept her off her feet. Was this a likely scenario?

AT: That's the kind of question I trust readers to know the answer

to once they've read the novel.

Q: "Their [Rebecca and Will's] past was a bolt of fabric they had

scissored up and divided between them." What do they gain

from their exchange of memories?

AT: It's more a question of what the reader gains: a sense, I hope, of

how fractured and subjective our interpretation of our past is.

Q: Could the Davitches--all of them--have helped Will open

up to the world? Or is it too late for him?

AT: Some people really are not capable of change. I think Will is

one of them. Any effort the Davitches might have made would

probably have just overwhelmed him.

Q: Rebecca's treatment of Will--rejecting him for a second time

after inviting him into her life--could be considered cruel. Do

you agree?

AT: It was painful, yes. ("Cruel" implies too much of an intent to

give pain.) I felt downright guilty when I wrote that scene. But for

Rebecca to have stayed with him would have been even more

painful. Sometimes, you just have to make that choice.

Q: We know how Zeb feels, but it is unclear how Rebecca feels

about him. Might something romantic ever happen between the

two of them?

AT: Someday, Zeb and Rebecca are going to marry. The Davitches

will be taken aback at first, but they'll warm to the idea wholeheartedly

as soon as they've adjusted.

Q: Rebecca reflects that "there were no perfect parties." Why

are people, like so many of the Davitches, often unwilling to recognize

how much hard work celebrations are?

AT: It wasn't the hard work of celebrations that I had in mind;

it was the fact that there is no perfect event, period--that

every human interaction is necessarily a mixed and mingled


Q: Rebecca's disapproving mother continues to exert a powerful

influence over her as does Rebecca over her daughters. Is it possible

to ever stop being your parent's child or your child's


AT: Yes, on occasion. But for a novelist the people who don't stop

are much more interesting.

Q: Do you ever find yourself getting angry at or having trouble

writing for thorny and difficult characters like Patch and

Rebecca's mother?

AT: In real life I might be very annoyed by some of my characters. I

find it a great deal easier to be tolerant of them on paper.

Q: Once you have created a fictional universe, is it hard to turn

it over to the rest of the world? Do you feel protective of your


AT: I always have a spell of maternal anxiety when a manuscript is

finally on its way to New York (where, for the first time, someone

other than me will see it). I picture my characters riding the train,

independent of me at last, excited and shy and unsure of themselves.

But once they've arrived and been accepted, I tend to forget

about them.

Q: If you had to choose a favorite character in this novel,

besides Rebecca, which would it be and why?

AT: I'm very fond of Peter. I like his curiosity and is active mind; I

think he's going to grow up to be a very interesting young man.

Q: What other books would you suggest for a reading group discussion?

AT: The most rewarding choice for reading groups would be a book

that they could argue about passionately among themselves.

Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children,for instance--people

have always loved that book or hated it. It could make for a

wonderfully lively discussion.

Q: Are you working a new novel?

AT: I'm in the early stages of a novel about an unhappy marriage--

a subject that intrigues me because it provides such a good opportunity

to watch different types of characters grating against each

other. It begins in 1941, and I'm finding it an unexpected pleasure

to live in another time for a while.

Product Details

Tyler, Anne
Mariner Books
Patchett, Ann
New York
Psychological fiction
Baltimore (Md.)
Domestic fiction
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Ballantine Reader's Circle
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8 x 5.31 in 1 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Romance » General
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Back When We Were Grownups (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 304 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345446862 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Tyler also has a gift...for unfurling intricate stories effortlessly, as if by whimsy or accident." Publishers Weekly
"Review" by , "In her deeply moving and perfectly syncopated new novel, Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler presents a stunning portrait of fifty-three-year-old Rebecca Davitch....There's not a flat line in this book, not a single simple character, not a moment that isn't tapped for all its glorious possibilities....This is storytelling at its best and most breathtaking. Tyler, an acknowledged master of the form, is living up to her well-earned reputation."
"Review" by , "This novel is a treasure, a jubilant look at a woman who embarks on a modern search for herself with style, grace, and, yes, celebration."
"Review" by , "One does not so much read a Tyler novel as visit it. Her ability to conduct several conversations at once while getting the food to the table turns the act of reading into a kind of transport....In a literary landscape that too often mistakes sarcasm for humor and self-reference for irony, an Anne Tyler novel, brimming with the real thing, calls for a toast."
"Review" by , "Packed with life in all its humdrum complexity — and funny, so funny, the kind that compels reading aloud. A masterful effort from one of our very best."
"Review" by , "Wise, kind, rueful and clear-eyed...and her truths are as gritty as earth and as interesting as the world."
"Review" by , "Her feel for character is so keen that even hardened metafictionalists [who] would happily fry the whole notion of ?character? for breakfast are reduced to the role of helpless gossips, swapping avid hunches about the possible fates of the characters."
"Synopsis" by , The Pulitzer Prize-winning author's #1 national bestseller, now in paperback, is a tender novel about aging, marriage, friendship, motherhood...and one extraordinary woman living an ordinary life.
"Synopsis" by , Since her first publication in 1992, celebrated novelist Ann Patchett has crafted a number of elegant novels, garnering accolades and awards along the way. Now comes a reissue of the best-selling debut novel that launched her remarkable career.

St. Elizabeths, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, usually harbors its residents for only a little while. Not so Rose Clinton, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed, and stays. She plans to give up her child, thinking she cannot be the mother it needs. But when Cecilia is born, Rose makes a place for herself and her daughter amid St. Elizabeths extended family of nuns and an ever-changing collection of pregnant teenage girls. Roses past wont be kept away, though, even by St. Elizabeths; she cannot remain untouched by what she has left behind, even as she cannot change who she has become in the leaving.

"Synopsis" by , “A WONDERFUL NOVEL . . . Tylers eye and ear for familial give and take is unerring, her humanity irresistible. Youll want to turn back to the first chapter the moment you finish the last.”

-People (Page-Turner of the Week)

“STUNNING . . . ‘Once upon a time, the story begins, ‘there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. . . . With Rebecca Davitch, Tyler has created a character who is brave enough to look back on her life and to imagine herself making different kinds of choices. Brave enough to wonder what honesty looks like, whether there is ever really a single distillation of self that is unshakable and true. . . . Anne Tyler has a talent for spinning out characters . . . who go on living long after their stories end.”

-The Baltimore Sun

“Her characters endear themselves to the reader with their candor and their wit and their simple decency. . . . The charm of an Anne Tyler novel lies in the clarity of her prose and the wisdom of her observations.”

-The Washington Post Book World

“RESEMBLES JANE AUSTENS PERSUASION IN THAT ITS A NOVEL ABOUT SECOND CHANCES . . . The tension that keeps the narrative alive is our desire for Rebecca to get the recognition and respect that we know she deserves from her family, and from herself. Its always good to have a character to root for.”

-San Jose Mercury News

“Maybe theres something glorious to be said, after all, for companionship, common cause, and sanctuary. And what there is to say, Anne Tyler has been saying for decades, with gravity and grace.”

-The New York Times Book Review

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