Friday, February 13, 2015
Book Review: "A Spool of Blue Thread" by Anne Tyler
Apparently Tyler has said that A Spool of Blue Thread, her 20th novel, will be her last. I tried not to let that fact influence my expectations or color my perceptions of the book.
Abby Whitshank has known her husband Red for as long as she can remember. They grew up in the same Baltimore suburb, and she can even remember the summer day in 1959 that she fell in love with him. Through the years the couple has lived in the stately old house his father built (a house that at times meant more to him than his entire family), raising four children and having their share of wonderful memories as well as arguments, frustrations, sadness, and struggles.
"The disappointments seemed to escape the family's notice, though. That was another of their quirks: they had a talent for pretending that everything was fine."
Although their relationship has grown a bit more cantankerous as they have aged, and following Abby's retirement from social work, both she and Red know they would be lost without each other. But after a series of health problems affect the two of them, their younger son Stem (aka Douglas), his wife, and his family move back into the house with Red and Abby, ostensibly to help take care of them, which doesn't sit too well with either of them. It also doesn't please their older son Denny, the one child who has caused the most friction in their lives. Denny, too, moves in to help.
A Spool of Blue Thread is the story of the joys, angst, and frustrations that are a part of family dynamics. It's a look at the secrets we keep, the lies we tell, what we say and what we don't, and how there are always people in your family you don't always understand. It's also a bit of a multi-generational love story, as the book not only looks at Abby and Red's relationship both at the start and in the present, but also looks at the relationship of Red's parents, Junior and Linnie Mae.
I have always loved Tyler's writing, and her use of language and storytelling is in fine form once again. Her characters are quirky and a little eccentric, but they have a lot of heart, and you really get drawn into their lives. I enjoyed this book a great deal, although it took a while for me to warm up to the section about Junior and Linnie Mae, because I felt that Junior was a fairly unlikeable character, although Tyler gradually unveiled his depth.
I wouldn't necessarily count this among Tyler's best, but it's another example of why she is one of the most enduring and celebrated writers of our time. I hope that she changes her mind and shares her talents with the world again, but if not, we have 20 wonderful novels to enjoy again and again. And for that I am truly grateful.