Monday, March 16, 2015

Thank You Anne Tyler!

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015, Hardcover)
You never disappoint me, Anne Tyler. I was so very ready for this heartfelt novel after the last month of reading non-stop for my new radio program. Oh, have I not mentioned this on my blog? Well yes, dear readers, for those of you who aren't from Southwest Florida...I now have a monthly radio review gig called "The Florida Book Page," which, while great fun, limits me to books by Floridians or about Florida. Not so easy! Take a listen.
I've also been immersed in a lion hunt in Mozambique with Mia Couto for my latest "Library Journal" review (due today and just sent off), not to mention my introduction to "The Making of Zombie Wars," also for LJ and far, far from my normal cup of tea.
All I hoped for this weekend was a good old fashioned story, no pretentious cleverness, no magical realism, just people I could relate to and feel something for. I found it in the Whitshank family of Baltimore and their warm, wood floored home on Bouton Rd., a house which is itself a fully formed character in the book.
Red and Abby, though a few years older than I, are a couple I get. She's an old hippie (I say this with fondness), a retired social worker, a woman who wants to save the world one lost soul at a time but sometimes to the detriment of her own kids. He's a good, decent man, one of those guys who works with his hands creating beauty from formless pieces of wood, not for the money or for the renown, but for the sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
Their children are as varied and dissimilar as a family of four kids can be. You know, they're not quite friends but they care deeply about each other, which is why they've all gathered on Bouton Road to discuss what to do about their folks. It seems that Abby has begun to lose time. She disappears. She's decided to give up driving. She can't remember the dog's name. The word Alzheimer's does not come up but, perhaps, the kids think, it's time to consider a "retirement home."
The thought of leaving the house that his father, Junior Whitshank, put every loving detail into, built from scratch for strangers, yet always believed would one day shelter his own family, is anathema to Red. Nothing could convince him to leave until Fate intervenes.
The joy of Anne Tyler's novels is that they feel so authentic. These are real families she introduces us to. We want to spend time with them. We recognize their faults as our own, we sigh in solidarity at their foibles, we empathize with the vicissitudes of their daily grind, the little things that wear all of us down yet deepen our love for life. And yes, we understand that they have secrets, some that they hold close with the best of intentions but which, when discovered, render tears in the fabric of their stitched together lives.
This multi-generational novel skips back and forth among the decades in a most satisfying way. Tyler generously lets her readers in on the back stories that are so central to our full understanding of her characters. Especially surprising is the relationship between Red's parents, the seemingly unsuited Linnie Mae and Junior, while Red and Abby's son Denny, a chronic misfit, elicited deep sympathy from me.
There are laugh-out-loud moments here interspersed with tender poignancy. If this sounds like a book you'd enjoy reading please let me know. You'll have a long wait at the library and I've got an advance reader's edition that I'd love to share. Email me at and it's yours.


Linda said...

So glad you loved it as much as I did. Yes, I too had great sympathy for Denny and, of course, adored Abby. Amazing how the back story changed our opinion of Junior, and, yes, you are so right: the house was a character in its own right.

Sallyb said...

Thank you Linda. Did you think that Tyler was hinting at Denny's demise in Hurricane Sandy? That worried me. I actually wondered if you thought of Bob while reading about how lovingly Junior put that house together.