Since the Contented Crafter suggested we create a world-wide book club, I’ve been thinking about what I could review. She took on The Luminaries and got lots of reinforcement of her opinion that it was a slog. Jenny of Characters from the Kitchen leaped in next and gave us more than one review, one of which, Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj, I intend to download or purchase at the bookstore (yes, some of us still go to those; the conjunction of electronic downloads, internet purchases, the library, and bookstores has been for me a bit like a ready supply of illegal drugs would be for an addict. Library doesn’t have it? Not in stock in the bookstore? Download). Derrick has also reviewed two books recently, so I thought it was high time I got down to business.
I bought A Spool of Blue Thread last spring. Since I bought it with a whole bunch of other books, it took me a while to get to it. I’ve been reading Anne Tyler for more than 30 years. Thank goodness she’s still writing. Her early books reflected her study of Russian literature, with intense, quirky, frenetic characters (see Morgan’s Passing, The Clock Winder, Searching for Caleb, Celestial Navigation). As the years went by, she developed a particular, lovely writing style, rooted in family experience and beautifully executed.
Most of her novels take place in Baltimore and all of them deal with family dynamics. Whether illuminating a complex family history, grief, secrets, or the way we all simply rub together and get along, her novels provide snapshots of people, a time and a place.
A Spool of Blue Thread begins in the present with Abby and Red Whitshank receiving a call from their prodigal son Denny. The next few pages tell you very clearly who these people are, their personalities and how they respond to the world.
The rest of the book rolls those personalities out, gives you a feel for the consequences of their world views, and shows you the seeds of secrets and resentments among family. The house the family lives in is also a character, built by Red’s father and coveted until it was sold to him by the family he’d built it for.
The book takes the reader into Abby and Red’s old age, then takes a plunge into the past, to Red’s father and his wife. I had some trouble with this as I didn’t want to change gears, but as ever with Tyler, the writing is lovely, so I finished it and was glad I did. It illuminated Denny, the focus of so much of his mother’s energy, explained him, and placed him among his siblings in a way I would not have seen if I had stopped at part one.
It’s a good read if you can shift gears. It sat on my nightstand for weeks because I didn’t want to know about the grandparents and Red and Abby’s teenage years. One night I picked it up and started reading and thought, “This is good. You need to finish this.” And I did. And you may want to as well.