Author: Anne Tyler
Next on the list for 2016 was A Spool of Blue Thread, the 20th novel by the long-standing American novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler. I’d never read anything by her before and this Booker Prize shortlisted effort (in only the second year of eligibility for American authors) seemed as good a place to start as any. She’s one of those authors I’ve seen around a lot (I work in a charity bookshop) without any standout classics to her name, yet I know she carries a good reputation among the reading public as well as the reviewing experts. Reading this also continues my happy trend so far of reading books by women this year, although the streak will end here (for now).
The plot revolves around the Whitshank family, with an emphasis on matriarch Abby and her husband Red. The Whitshanks, also comprising sons Denny and Stem, daughters Amanda and Jeannie, and their respective spouses and children, are a “typical” American family living in present-day Baltimore (though much of the narrative takes place in various recent pasts). The novel takes place in three parts. In part one (the bulk of the book) Abby and Red are aging and the time has come for the younger generation to figure out what to do with their increasingly and reluctantly dependent parents. Part two steps back in time to take a look at the earliest stages of Abby & Red’s courtship; part three chronicles the mysterious history of Red’s parents Junior and Linnie. Time weaves back and forth around these main subject lines, as the “spool of blue thread” gradually winds and unwinds itself through the lives of the Whitshank family.
I liked it a lot. I felt a little bit like an outsider at times, as the themes in the book are very reminiscent of Americana-like nostalgia in a way that didn’t entirely resonate with me, but in a way that actually heightened my curiosity in the strange-yet-normal setting and characters. I particularly enjoyed how the second and third parts gradually explained some of the intriguing goings-on in the first (often contradicting the accepted family version of events) and it makes me almost want to read it again with my new-found expert knowledge.
It’s a great relief sometimes to read a nice, normal novel without having to deal with highbrow writing styles, deep dramatic themes and the like. Tyler seems to be an honest and unpretentious author who doesn’t have to try too hard to write something eminently readable. And so I will definitely look out for her books in future (as if I needed to add another back catalogue to my to-read list). Overall I would highly recommend A Spool of Blue Thread – it’s not a ground-breaker, but it’s a page-turner, and sometimes that’s all you need from a book.
My rating: 8/10