A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets.
First Impressions: To me the opening scenes with the phone call felt a bit farcical and staged, like I was watching a mid 20th century stage play. I didn’t necessarily dislike this but it did make the book feel as if it had been published a few decades ago. This is typical of Tyler so I wasn’t surprised.
Highlights: The story of surrounding Stem, one of the sons, was intriguing and heartbreaking in measure. The novel followed many strands of the family story and it all tied together well. It is definitely a literary novel rather than a ‘family saga’ despite the fact it follows the same family over a few generations.
If I was an editor: The first thing that would leap out at me is just how similar this novel is in feel and plot to other Anne Tyler novels. This isn’t necessarily a negative as the formula works and it’s a comfortable read with a timeless American (Baltimorean) story. I went through an Anne Tyler phase a few years ago (a big shelf in my local library) and while I enjoyed all the novels and appreciated her plotting and characterisation, they never really grabbed at my heart and affected me. I found A Spool of Blue Thread to be the same; enjoyable but it did not leave a lingering impression.
Overall: A pleasurable read. Perhaps not contemporary enough to win the Bailey’s Prize.
A Spool of Blue Thread: 3 stars
Thank you to Random House (Vintage) for a copy of the title to review.