Anne Tyler’s books, like the television program Seinfeld, are generally stories about nothing. To be more specific, they aren’t plot driven, but instead, are more about how the characters respond to something and/or to each other. And the gift is in her beautiful writing.
I think Tyler is one of those authors that you either like or you don’t. Nothing in between. And she has her good novels and her less good novels. I can’t say I’ve ever read one that I heartily disliked.
I think A Spool of Blue Thread, however, purportedly Ms. Tyler’s last novel (she has written 20 to date), is one of her better stories. I can’t relate a plot, really, because I’m not kidding when I tell you that there most often isn’t a plot as such. But I had strong feelings, positive and negative, for the characters in the book.
As with most of Tyler’s novels, A Spool of Blue Thread (and don’t you love that title?) takes place in Baltimore. She tells us about the fairly normal Whitshank family, but as you examine them further, you see the cracks and the gaps. Nothing earth shattering. No ax murderers. But the complicated people that all families include.
It is also the story of a house. A big house built by the father of our Mr. Whitshank. The younger Mr. Whitshank is a very likeable and patient man who struggles with the foibles of his quirky wife, his difficult eldest son, and his relentless aging. If you consider a house to have human qualities, this particular house has seen its share of laughter and crying. It was designed and built with love by a not particularly loveable man.
The best thing about Tyler’s stories is the tenderness in which she presents the characters. You can love them or hate them, but they are never presented unkindly.
Somewhere around the middle of the book, the story jumps back in time to give us a picture of Mr. Whitshank’s parents, and it felt sort of unexpected and confusing. Still, in the end, it gave us a good picture of not only his parents, but the Whitshank family members with whom we are familiar from the first part of the book. Because of Tyler’s lovely writing, it works.
If you want to get lost in what feels like a nice summer evening, pick up Tyler’s last novel. In fact, pick up any one of her novels.
Buy A Spool of Blue Thread from Amazon here.
Buy A Spool of Blue Thread from Barnes and Noble here.
Buy A Spool of Blue Thread from Tattered Cover here.
But A Spool of Blue Thread from Changing Hands here.