A Spool of Blue Thread

Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread was published in 2015.

I was beginning to worry that this would be the first Anne Tyler novel that I didn’t love. The first hundred pages felt a little disorienting, and I wasn’t sure where the story was headed. And suddenly I was entirely engrossed, then devastated by the turn of events. It was as if Tyler devised it to slowly lure me in, force me to let my guard down, and then teach me a lesson.

I’ve read she intended for this story to go on forever, to continue through the generations of the Whitshank family. But she ended it after four generations, and really only explored the characters of the first three. (The fourth generation were children). As usual the family dynamics were enthralling, but I especially loved Abby, who married into the Whitshank family in the second generation. She is a classic Tyler mother character, searching for independence and meaning in middle-late age. The love she has for her husband and children is truly touching, and Tyler’s omniscient narrator catches simple but important moments and details with such beauty.

Tyler’s plots are impossible to summarize, but this is the story of a family that sprawls out from the marriage of two lonely people and occupies one lovely house. The house becomes a symbol of achievement and pride for the family, but not everyone feels they belong. In this way it felt similar to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett — the details of the house and the way it is inhabited make it almost a character itself. We get to know the second and third generation of the Whitshank’s before the first, and this structure provides exactly the right perspective. I had many “aha” moments as I turned the pages, and while the first section felt slow, I flew through the rest of the novel. I just didn’t want to leave these characters alone.

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