Knopf Doubleday: 2/10/2015
eBook review copy, 368 pages
My Thoughts:“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . .” This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.Brimming with all the insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is very highly recommended, complex, multi-generational novel that is incredible. Really, this could be my favorite Anne Tyler to date, and I love several of her previous books.
This time Tyler introduces us to the Whitshank family: Junior and Linnie and, their son Red, his wife Abby and their children, Amanda, Jeannie, Denny, and Stem. We are also introduced to their Baltimore home on Bouton Road. The home was built by patriarch Junior. He bought and moved his family into it when the original owners sold. The novel opens with Red and Abby worrying about their son, Denny, which provides keen insight into all three characters. We are also introduced to their other children.
All families have myths and stories they repeat and tell to subsequent generations. The Whitshanks have some stories of their own that are often told and retold. One story Abby tells is of the day she fell in love with Red. It always begins, "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon …" What we are privy to, eventually, is some of the truth behind the family myths.
Tyler excels at showcasing the intricacies and complexity of relationships in daily domestic life. The conversations her characters have and conflicts that arise resemble those I have had or heard, in my own family. That members of a family can keep secrets, make assumptions, behave badly, avoid responsibilities, follow traditions, repeat family lore, and live independent lives, all while trying to do their best to care for others or protect them or avoid the truth or deflect responsibility or feel obligated to help, is a fact of life. Families are complicated and relationships messy. Tyler can take these messy complexities of a family and capture it perfectly on paper.
These characters are well developed and totally realized. Through the dialogue and their actions I could readily discern who they are and how they will react to situations. Tyler delivers subtle nuances into all her characters through their dialogue and actions. In the end they are all trying to do their best, even if it doesn't seem apparent or their best isn't what you would expect. As you learn about the Whitshanks, they will become real and you will empathize with them.
I simply can't quite capture how much I love A Spool of Blue Thread. As I have said, it may just be my favorite Anne Tyler novel to date and that in itself is saying a great deal. A Spool of Blue Thread embodies everything that has made Anne Tyler one of my favorite authors. The writing, descriptions, and dialogue are perfect. It's not an extravagant novel, broad in action and breadth. It is an exquisite, finely spun, carefully crafted novel that captures the quirks and nuances of an ordinary family with grace and compassion enough to make them what we all think we are, a special family.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.