Ladder of Years

While on a family beach vacation, 40 year old Baltimore resident Dee Grinstead strolls down the beach and disappears.  She is wearing nothing but a bathing suit and carrying a tote bag containing her husband’s robe and $500, the family’s vacation money. It is hours before her family realizes that she is missing. Anne Tyler’s bestseller (albeit of 14 years ago), follows Dee as she walks to the family’s vacation rental cottage. Dee then begs a ride from a handyman, and gets out in the town of Bay Borough, Maryland.

In short order, Dee acquires a place to live, a job, and a small wardrobe. By the time her family finds her, Dee is well ensconced in her new life, and has no wish to return to her husband, her three children and her sisters. They are, of course, hurt and uncomprehending, but this is not their story. It is Dee’s. She feels unloved by her husband, and unappreciated by everyone else.

When Dee had been gone over a year, she receives a wedding invitation from her daughter. When she returns to the family home, we begin to first learn about matters from the family’s perspective.

For me, the most telling part of the book is in the beginning. Dee’s family is unable to describe her accurately to the police.  No wonder Dee just up and left them! This book is sad and perplexing. Who hasn’t wanted to escape their life, but who actually does?

It’s hard to imagine that this book could have been written by anyone but such a talented writer as the Pulitzer Prize winning Anne Tyler.  And what does Ladder of Years mean? You’ll have to read this for a very touching explanation.My only complaint is that, written 15 years ago, it does seem dated, and I keep wondering why the police don’t just ping Dee’s cell phone! Oh yeah-nobody in this story has one.


Published in hardcover-Random House-1996
Softcover edition-Ballantine Books-1995

Ladder of Years


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