A spacious, well-made house with a wrap-around porch full of family and laughter. This is the idyllic setting of Anne Tyler‘s latest, A Spool of Blue Thread. I know I’m not the only one who has pined over a house with a huge porch and shiny swing where people congregate and socialize; apparently, I share this characteristic with the patriarch of the Whitshank Family: Junior. But more about him later.
The narrative revolves around the Whitshank family, and their everyday family issues. Spoiler alert: nothing is extraordinary about this family, so if you’re look for a thriller, this is not the book for you. However, I don’t always want a plot-driven book, and Tyler is adept at creating characters and situations that make you want to turn the page, even if that situation is a simple family argument around the dinner table. Think I’m the only one that feels this way? Apparently I’m not, because Anne Tyler is a bestselling author who has also won the Pulitzer Prize; not too shabby I would say!
So back to Junior. He’s mentioned at the very beginning of the book in passing while the family tree is being described, but we don’t hear from him directly until half way through the book in a flashback. It may seem a bit abrupt to some, but we begin knee-deep into the lives of the present family, and then half way through the book are whisked back to a ‘simpler time’ that explains the origins of this famous Whitshank house and it’s builder, Junior.
The story of Junior and his wife getting together is fraught with controversy: he was in his 20s, she was only 13 when they met and began a physical relationship together. However, from Junior’s point of view, he was reluctantly dragged into the marriage, and his wife’s point of view is much different; she believes they had a fairy tale romance like Romeo and Juliet. This clash of perspectives is what makes up much of the conflict in the book, and what I personally found most interesting. Every family appears one way to outsiders, and is of course very different to the people who are actually a part of that family. From the outside, the Whitshank family seems perfect, yet Tyler is able to reveal a more realistic side of these people without falling into the cliche, or the unbelievable. This is a book about life as we experience it here in North America, the ups and downs we have all been through and understand all too well when we read about it in a fictional context such as this.
What I most enjoyed about this book was recognizing myself and my family in these pages: the conversations we have with each other and ourselves, as well as the things left unsaid. If you’re ready for a trip down memory lane, prepare yourself a nice cup of tea and settle in with A Spool of Blue Thread, you won’t be disappointed.