Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel is emotionally rewarding, true to life and a great aesthetic pleasure.

A Spool of Blue Thread is Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel. Famous for such modern classics as Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982) and The Accidental Tourist (1985), her reputation spreads far and wide. This is my first Tyler book and I enjoyed the experience very much.

The story follows the Whitshank family over two generations. The central figure of the Whitshank family is Abby, mother of four. She’s rather dotty and scatterbrained, a social worker who likes to take in strangers. She’s married to Red, a builder. Most of their children have turned out fine, except for Denny, who has always caused them much grief. The first two hundred pages of the novel concentrates on Abby and the family’s internal dynamics and politics: who holds grudges and against whom, who feels hard done by and ignored, and on and on. Then the novel changes tack and goes back to Red Whitshank’s parents, Linnie Mae and Junior, describing their far from perfect courtship and marriage. The final chapters return to Abby and Red’s family, as they all go through some major changes.

Anne Tyler is clearly skilled at describing all the small details and interactions of family life. She captures every slight gesture and awkwardness. It’s almost like watching a cozy TV mini series, where you settle into each of the characters and their stories. Her dialogue is so realistic and addictive that I found myself turning page after page, even when my eyes started to droop after reading too late. I don’t know what the take-away message of A Spool of Blue Thread is, if indeed there is one at all. The story is more like a watercolour portrait of a bustling family scene.

Anne Tyler makes it all seem so simple and effortless, yet under this apparent ease there obviously must be a lot of hard work, re-writing and effort. This is a novel that is both aesthetically rewarding and true to life. She’s the heir to American greats such as John Cheever and Richard Yates, which is no small praise.

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler. Published by Chatto and Windus. ISBN: 9780701189525  RRP: $32.99

To sign up for our monthly newsletter, featuring new releases, book reviews and favourite articles from around the web, click here.