Monday, July 13, 2015

"A Spool of Blue Thread," by Anne Tyler

Do you ever want to tell your reading friends “Just read this book! Trust me! You will be glad you did!”? I sometimes feel that way. But I know that I need to provide a little more information and support to those statements; after all, some friends have different tastes in books, or (understandably!) want more information before committing to a book. Certainly, readers of this book blog would not likely be pleased with a blog entry that said only “Read this book! Trust me!” So, although I always feel this way about Anne Tyler’s wonderful novels, and I do once again about “A Spool of Blue Thread” (Knopf, 2015), I will provide a little more information about this, her latest novel. First, though, I have to say how fortunate we are to have a writer of this caliber among us, and one who has given us 20 novels to read, savor, ponder, enjoy, and learn from. Tyler’s novels (most of the time) take place in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives too. The community of Baltimore, or at least the part of Baltimore that she writes about (mostly white, middle or upper middle class, with working class roots) is an integral background and part of her novels. The other common characteristic of her novels is the emphasis on family and family dynamics. In the case of “A Spool of Blue Thread,” the family is the Whitshanks, and we learn about four generations of the family, but especially the middle two generations. The story goes back and forth in the history of the family, each time revealing new aspects of the family history, including some surprising secrets. Abby and Red Whitshank have four adult children. Three of them live near their parents; one, who has always been the odd one, the one with secrets, lives in various places elsewhere, often out of touch with his parents and siblings. Yet he keeps coming back, and obviously loves his family, despite a huge chip on his shoulder about some of the family history, especially one big aspect of it: the way his younger brother came to be part of the family. As Abby and Red get older, and Abby starts to have health problems, the family draws together to help, and during this time, feelings are revealed, decisions are made and disputed, and everyone comes to understand the inevitability of time and change, but also the solid foundation that they as family provide each other. Besides her wonderful insights about, and rich descriptions of, families, the great thing about Tyler’s writing is her beautiful writing about everyday life in all its details, at the same time that she is portraying how we are all part of a longer history. Readers who already know and love Tyler’s novels do not need me to convince them to read “A Spool of Blue Thread.” To readers who have not yet read her fiction, I say “Read this book! Trust me!”
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