Back When We Were Grown-ups
by Anne Tyler
Rebecca Davitch is fifty something, widowed, overweight and sports "a loose and comfortable style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady".
Rebecca has reached a place in her life where she feels that she no longer knows who she is and yearns for the strong-willed, independent young woman she once was.
Rebecca was married young to an older man, Joe, who died in a car accident only a few years later leaving Rebecca to raise his three daughters (their mother wasn't interested) and another daughter of their own. As though this wasn't enough she inherits Joe's old Uncle Poppy who, at the time of the story, is approaching his centennial. She carries on the family business which they ran from Joe's family home, which involves catering for special occasions in their semi-grand Baltimore house - the appropriately named Open Arms.
Rebecca reaches a turning-point where she no longer wants to be the cheerful, capable, nurturing one of the family and seeks out her first serious boyfriend, Will, discovers he's divorced, and embarks on a kind of affair with him. Things don't work out and Rebecca is forced to re-think her past.
What is remarkable about Anne Tyler's writing is that although there is never much plot her perception of the human condition never fails to amaze. She endows her central characters with such good qualities and they always see the best in others. In this instance Rebecca is almost Zen-like in her acceptance.
The truly remarkable part of Rebecca's story is what she has achieved rather than what she hasn't - though one still wants her to visit the rainforest, take a younger lover, write poetry, become totally free and as her brother in law, Zeb, advises "it's never too late". A lesson to us all.