Thursday, 18 June 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

With her latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, we are in classic Anne Tyler territory. It is the story of the Whitshank family, told over several generations, all living in the same old house in Baltimore built by Junior Whitshank decades ago. The plot revolves around Abby Whitshank’s early stages of dementia, which brings her children home to consider their parents’ future.

The story see-saws back and forth through the generations bringing us Red and Abby’s courtship, Junior’s ambitions to set up a building business and how he meets Linnie Mae. The blue thread of the title links the generations in odd ways, creeping in as the colour of a porch swing, a wedding shirt and so on.

As a whole the story is a bit of a patchwork, with several key stories making up the whole. There is the particularly heart-breaking story of Stem’s adoption, Abby’s determination to look after him and sibling rivalry with Denny, his older brother. Denny is a recurring Tyler sort, a misfit, inclined to drift from job to job and relationship to relationship, but Tyler leaves us with a morsel of hope for him.

What I love most about the book is Tyler’s gift with dialogue, the distinctive voice each character has, and the warmth and humour that runs throughout. It’s the little details and sharp observations that create a picture of a family, which could be any family. In Tolstoy’s words: ‘All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ There is some of this in Tyler’s novel about the Whitshanks: it’s the difficulties that give the novel its substance. Perhaps she is the Tolstoy of our day.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: A Spool of Blue Thread

No comments:

Post a Comment