Anne Tyler’s latest book – A Spool of Blue Thread – begins as a simple family saga, introducing the Whitshanks, a seemingly innocuous group of characters – hardworking father, caring mother, responsible sisters, the black sheep brother, and the son who will take over the business. Just as you are comfortably settled into their lives, Tyler shifts gears, introducing layers of generations, revealing idiosyncacries, and offering her trademark wisdom about relationships and life.
Here are a few gems I’d like to remember:
“Believe me, it was a dark day in the universe when the internet started letting people research their own symptoms.”
“They say sweets are helpful in times of sadness, she said. I’ve always found that to be true.”
“He (God) gives them more than they can handle every day of the year…Half of the world is walking around just…destroyed, most of the time.”
“…children figure out so young that people die. It makes you wonder why we bother accumulating, accumulating, when we know from earliest childhood how it’s all going to end.”
Although the process of growing up and growing old dominates the story through three generations, Tyler deftly inserts family resentments and good intentions gone awry. The sudden death of a main character scatters the family focus, and the aftermath of a secret uncovered rings true. Maybe Tyler is offering a warning: destroy all those written notes, long before you think it’s necessary (Jane Austen had the right idea – better to leave in mystery).
As in all her books, Tyler provides a back story for all her characters, and neatly ties up all loose strings – in this case, with a spool of blue thread. But her books always end with a sigh, and the promise that life goes on. For Anne Tyler, it’s the middle that counts – not necessarily the beginning or end. If you are a Tyler fan, you will easily fall into the familiar rhythm and enjoy yourself.