fiction / literary fiction

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler


A Spool of Blue Thread was not my favorite Anne Tyler.  I always liked Ladder of Years best, personally, although now I see the protagonist who seemed like a real, old, established adult to me when I first read it was only supposed to be 40. Oy.

Living in Baltimore, I do like to read books that take place here since relatively few do, especially ones that do not involve, ahem, homicide or life on the street. I didn’t read A Spool of Blue Thread when it came out because I wasn’t going to the library at that time but was happy when it was available to download from the library right away onto my Kindle. I know it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize but I couldn’t really get into it as much I have her other books. I know she has said she had hoped she would die before finishing it so she wouldn’t have to (odd since I think she is only in her early 70s) and that initially, she wanted to go back many generations of the Whitshank family but thankfully she didn’t. The basic premise is an older couple is slowly getting too old to live on their own. They have two daughters who never get fleshed out, a mysterious, itinerant, moody son (Denny) who we learn about in drips and drabs and another son who they take in after his father dies at Mr. Whitshank’s (Red) business. Abby, the matriarch of the family is the focus of much of the book and recants stories and episodes from their life as a family in a house that her husband’s father built. She dies in the second part and the family has to cope, some better than others. The final section takes us back to when Abby first talks to her husband’s mother before they were actually dating. It turns out that the first Mrs. Whitshank (Linnie Mae) had been only 13 when she seduced (Anne Tyler makes it pretty clear that Linnie Mae was the instigator here which seems odd for a book written in 2015) a 26 -year old man. After being caught in the barn with their pants down, he has driven away and ends up in Baltimore. Linnie Mae follows him there 5 years later much to his dismay. We know he isn’t happy to see her but they do stay together and eventually have two children. He acts like he is doing her a favor but eventually, he realizes that she obviously can take care of herself, she lived through the scandal, tracked him down, lived through her father not talking to her for 5 years, traveled by herself, found them a house etc. This whole bit is through his point of view which I found annoying. I would have like to have known more of what Linnie Mae was thinking during the early Baltimore years rather than through the lens of her husband. The book was long enough, an extra chapter would have been fine.

Basically, I thought the book was old fashioned (not in a particularly good way) and simultaneously contained too much detail and too little. I never get a sense of who the daughters were at all, and while I get that Denny is a bit of a mystery to his parents, he was a mystery to the readers as well which made for dull story telling.

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