It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’ This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself. From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we also see played out our own hopes and fears, rivalries and tensions – the essential nature of family life
One thing that Anne Tyler can be relied on is to offer up characters you become interested in and want to know more about. But let me offer a warning, she can be a tease by taking you just so far in seeing the whole person and then leaves you wondering.
A Spool of Blue Thread is the eight of Anne Tyler’s 20 novels I’ve read and I am in no doubt I will read more. The main action of the book takes place in a suburban neighbourhood of Baltimore and revolves about the life and history of the Whitshank family. Once again we find ourselves on a domestic stage in a provincial “theatre” experiencing the humdrum lives of three generations of ordinary folk.
But there is nothing ordinary or humdrum about Tyler’s novel. We are pulled into the emotional web of the Whitshank family as if it were our own and I defy anyone not to recognise aspects of themselves and their families in among the hopes, fears , intrigues and endings. And what an ending.
If you have not read any Anne Tyler then start now and why not with this. If you are already an fan then the UK hardback edition of A Spool of Blue Thread publishes on February 10th so get to your local independent and get it on order now.