A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Published by Bond Street Books
Review copy provided by the publisher
From the publisher:
“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.” This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family–their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog–is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red’s father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler’s hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.
When I received an unsolicited, surprise copy of A Spool of Blue Thread in the mail, I almost tossed it aside without a second glance. After all, I’m not officially accepting books for review anymore, and I didn’t have my eye on this one before its publication date – it was completely off my radar. I chose to take another look at it, and eventually read it, because I realized that I had never read any of this prolific author’s work before. I thought, everyone raves about Anne Tyler and I don’t even know what the fuss is about, I might as well give her a try. So I did.
And now I don’t know what to think. Because, on the surface, this is a wonderful novel, one I should have fallen in love with. I love these family stories. I love getting inside the seemingly insignificant details of characters’ and families’ lives and truly getting to know a fictionalized set of characters. Anne Tyler gave that to me here, so I should have loved it. But I didn’t love it, which makes me sad, so let me at least try to explain why I gave this book three stars instead of four or five.
Some things I didn’t love: There were several plot points that I thought were going to mean something and they ended up fizzing out to nothing (including one big one that I particularly hated). There was a Big Event in the middle of the book that I wasn’t prepared for and am not sure I like where it took the direction of the novel. The characters felt a little fake to me – and by that I mean, several of them were “good” and one was “bad” but when it came down to it the good guys were really superficially good and actually kind of crappy, and the bad one ended up being the most normal, most genuinely good person of the bunch. But you really don’t see that until towards the end of the book, which was marginally annoying. I’m not sure I liked how nonlinear the story was, although it wasn’t horrible. And there was one particular plot line, involving a young girl and a much older man, that was just inappropriate, I felt it was entirely unnecessary and added nothing to the story.
BUT. Anne Tyler can write. Holy crap can she write, and wow can she create characters that are interesting and complicated and raw and people who many of us know in our real lives. So overall, I didn’t love A Spool of Blue Thread but I do see the merits of it. And I think there’s going to be a lot of people who love it. I just don’t have to be one of them.
Question – for those of you who have read more of Tyler’s work, is there another book of hers that I might enjoy more? Or perhaps one of her short story collections? I’m open to whatever suggestions you have, because I did like her writing.