A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is an author that is well-known to many and A Spool of Blue Thread is her 20th published novel, said perhaps to be her last.

If like me you haven’t read Anne Tyler before (am I the only one?), you can get an idea of what she’s about from this succinct, sound-bite like feature 10 Things you Need to Know about Anne Tyler by Shelley Marks via The Pool, a hip, online writing, audio and video resource for women, that launched just before Easter. Click on the image below to visit.

The Pool

Anne Tyler writes about family and domestic life in suburban America (Baltimore) and this new novel opens with something of an anti-drama when Abby and Red Whitshank receive a confusing telephone message from their son Denny, who has left home but not exactly settled into whatever it is he intends to do. Abby swings between wanting to just leave him be and being over-anxious to find out what’s going on.

A SpoolThe novel dwells on certain periods when members of the family return home, the four children are all adults in the opening pages and as the back story is filled in, we observe petty grievances, old resentments, current mysteries and a family coming to term with changes as their parents age and may need to move on from the family home.

The book is separated into four parts, starting with Abby and Red in their later years in 1994, sliding back to 1954 just before they began dating, and then even further back to the period when the family home was built by Red’s father Junior, the most intriguing chapters of the book for me, where we hear about how he and his wife Linnie met, the book then returns to the present in Part Four.

The family home could almost be considered a character in itself, the novel concerning the minutiae of family life and events related to that house that was originally built by Red’s father Junior Whitshank, a home he constructed for Mr and Mrs Brill, but one he tended with a love and obsession to detail one would normally reserve for one’s own home. For deep inside, he knew he was building it for himself, he would just have to wait the necessary years – a patience he knew well, and sure enough the opportunity came around when he would indeed reclaim it.

“It was nothing but an architect’s drawing the first time he laid eyes on it. Mr. Ernest Brill, a Baltimore textile manufacturer, had unfurled a roll of blueprints while standing in front of the lot where he and Junior had arranged to meet. And Junior glanced first at the lot and then down at the drawing of the front elevation, which showed a clapboard house with a gigantic front porch, and the words that popped into his head were ‘Why, that’s my house!’ “

Over the years and generations that followed, that home became the repository of memories, events and upbringings whose recollections were as present as the fixings that held the structure together, every inch of the house infused with the presence of family past and present. It is not until we arrive at Part Three that we really understand the significance of the house and what it meant for Junior to have arrived there, thus allowing the next generations to live as they do, in blissful ignorance of their past.

This narration of the present before the past adds an unexpected surprising element to what is otherwise a fairly straightforward domestic saga, the Whitshank’s don’t know much about their origins and the reader too won’t learn what the family will never know until later in the book. It reminds us not to make assumptions about people, not to judge a family by the size of their porch, a book by its cover, and so many other outward appearances that make it easy to create a false image of what lies within.

Spool Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread reminded me in some ways of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, I guess that is the book that comes to mind, when I try to recall if I’ve read anything similar to this.

Ironically, after finishing this book, I read Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years to get more of a feel for her work and about two-thirds the way through, came across another spool of blue thread, which although a causal reference, did make me wonder if this story had been gestating a long time.

A Spool of Blue Thread is long listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015.

 

 

 

39 thoughts on “A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

  1. Pingback: Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015 | Word by Word

  2. Wonderful review, Claire! I read Anne Tyler’s ‘Breathing Lessons’ sometimes back and loved it. I found the description of life in a small town and the way the main character, tries to intrude into everyone’s life and make changes, endlessly frustrating, annoying and fascinating🙂 I was hoping to read more of her works then (I think I have one or two of her other novels in my collection) and so it is very nice to know that her new novel has come out. I love the title and the cover and it is wonderful that it is longlisted for the Bailey’s prize. It will be great if it wins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s the one that she won a Pulitzer Prize for, I am sure that some of her characters provoke emotion and judgement from readers, someone commented to me that Delia in Ladder of Years reminded her of a spoiled youngest child that does everything without apparent motivation. That lade me sit up and think a little harder about her, though ultimately I’m not sure I could relate to it, but a fascinating response!

      Like

    • I found Ladder of Years fascinating, but it could definitely do with a good discussion, there was much about Delia that I just couldn’t figure out and I am sure it would be enlightening to discuss her with a few others.

      Like

      • I’d love to know what you couldn’t figure out. It’s a long time since I’ve read it and while I found her action, just going off (I have got the right book haven’t I?) astonishing, it also made sense once you accept that. I see her as an empty-nester who was feeling unneeded, useless. I don’t recollect finding her hard to figure out though I have never felt that way myself about empty-nest. She’s one of those women who had defined herself by the home and family. But, tell me if I’m off here – or if there’s something else later in the book that didn’t make sense. As with all Tylers, you do have to suspend some disbelief I think – but for me not so much to not make them psychologically real (if that makes sense).

        Like

      • I couldn’t figure out how her caring nature and willingness to respond whenever anyone wished anything of her reconciled with leaving her children, she seemed too young to be going through that hormonal withdrawal that releases the “protective maternal instinct” from women during menopause and she was drawn again towards caring for a young child indicating she certainly still had those feelings. Her relationship with her children wasn’t really explored except right at the end when she is around them again.

        Like

      • Thanks for explaining, Claire. Remembering back, as I recollect, she’d had her children young so her empty next was happening younger than mine did. I do remember her being younger that I’d have expected. My sense is that empty nest is not necessarily closely related to menopause. I mean, many women become grandmothers after menopause and their maternal feelings can be in full swing for their grandchildren, so I didn’t find a disconnect there. On the contrary, that young child probably filled the gap she was starting to feel. (At least, that’s as I recollect her feelings at the beginning of the novel – she was feeling unneeded by her children and husband and had no other role to fill).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have read several Tylers but not her recent ones – I’ve read The Accidental Tourist, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Breathing Lessons, The Ladder of Years, and I think a couple of others. I love the way she pushes situations to an almost silly level in order to tease out truths, and she always does tease out truths. How lovely to hear that she’s been longlisted for the Bailey Prize, particularly if this is her last. I’d happily read more of her books.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that’s what she does. I loved Lader of years for that. And the thing is, she’s so warm and generous to her people. They face tough things at times, but she tends not to judge. I love her for that.

        Like

  4. Claire, I didn’t know about The Pool, so thanks for posting about it! Long ago I read some Ann Tyler and liked her, but I felt as though her books began to sound the same to me, so I haven’t read her in a while. Nonetheless, she is such a good writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, from the many reviews I read, I got that sense that many felt that about her work, but then for the same reason, some like that familiarity, I did find it amusing to come across another spool of blue thread in Ladder of Years, although in this book, it is more of a metaphor. I enjoyed Ladder of Years, possible even more than this book, though they don’t make me want to read the entire back list, an author who readers can rely on for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I haven’t read any of of Anne Tyler’s novels, and I’m not sure why that’s the case as I’m sure I would enjoy her work. I get the sense that she has a deep understanding of family and relationships. Great review, Claire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She’s one of those names I’ve seen often but rarely heard anyone talk about, now that she has a new book out, we get to talk about her I guess, I find that really helps to dust off unread volumes, the number of times I grab a book off my shelf because someone happened to review it, it’s kind of funny, but so true! Well Tyler wasn’t even on my shelf, but I found plenty at the library as you can imagine.

      Like

  6. I’ve only read one of her books and liked it a great deal. I’ll certianly read more of her soon. This sounds like a typical Anne Tyler, which is a good thing.
    Interesting about the blue thread. Sometimes ideas take a long time until they turn into a novel.

    Like

    • Do you remember which was the book you have already read?
      I thought the blue thread was quite an amazing find, especially as I could have chosen any one of 18 other novels to read and I happened to choose the one where the blue thread lay🙂 Well, unless there’s a thread in every novel😉

      Like

      • It was Back When we We’re Grownups. I did review it.
        It’s quite a coincidence, I agree. I don’t think there’s a “thread theme” in all of them.

        Like

  7. I’ve read numerous Anne Tyler novels and always loved them, I much prefer books that focus on the people over the action, often very little happens in them, just quiet family drama. I saw this was on the Bailley’s prize longlist, and much as I would love to read it I think it is rather long way down the TBR pile

    Like

    • So what’s at the top of your pile? Anything from the long list or are you reading in another direction currently? To be honest the prizes don’t really change my reading intentions, but I love the lonflists where I might find something I wasn’t already aware of. In this case, I thought how could I have neglected an author who has already written 20 novels, so pushed it up to the top and then read a second one to be sure!

      Like

  8. Great review, thanks. So great I just got home from the book store clutching a copy. Disappointed they didn’t have An Autobiography of my Mother. Not quite sure why to be honest. I’ll order it from Amazon. Going to start reading my new book now🙂.

    Like

    • I guess your bookstore doesn’t follow Word by Word! Or they would have realised there’s going to be a surge in demand for Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiography of my Mother! Good to know they have the latest Tyler, she obviously has a following in Toronto. The two writers have very different styles, opposite ends of the spectrum and both great at the way they inhabit those places.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well I can’t wait to read both of them. And yes, I am going to recommend that the owner of the book store starts reading your blog🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. How interesting to find a spool of thread ref in Ladder Of Years . I really enjoyed SOBT and thought the all round portrait of the family was skilfully done . I’m a big fan of Tyler’s work . Great review.

    Like

  10. I first read Anne Tyler on “Digging to America” and it was meh for me, so I am wary that this novel will give me the same effect. I am inclined to read “The Accidental Tourist” if I were to pick up Tyler’s novels. Thanks for the sharing your thoughts on the book.🙂

    Like

  11. You won’t believe it…but while reading your review …The Corrections popped into my mind too!
    You are not alone, I have never read Anne Tyler. I enjoyed the review and it gave me a good impression of what to expect from Tyler. I always admire how you often read another book by the same author ( as you did with Kincaid) to get more of ‘the feel’ of the writer.

    Like

  12. I like Anne Tyler . . . .I haven’t read all of her novels, but enough to make me appreciate her themes, her style, etc. An essay of hers that appeared in ‘The Writer on Her Work’, Vol. 1, delightfully conveyed how she negotiates between her fictional world and real world as mother/writer/wife and really left an impression when I read it years ago. Even if you just read the first paragraph, you’ll get what I mean. Here’s a link. https://books.google.com/books?id=CpnlIEbkpNcC&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=still+just+writing+anne+tyler&source=bl&ots=ldK5Wva6pf&sig=1I-jWn929c7dpcNEzqZxBy6ElOM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=tCgsVfqfBMecNt6zgeAG&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=still%20just%20writing%20anne%20tyler&f=false

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m about two-thirds of the way through A Spool of Blue Thread right now, so I’ll come back and read your post soon. I’ve read all of Anne Tyler’s books, I believe. She’s one of my favorites! At the beginning, I didn’t like A Spool of Blue Thread as much as I expected to, but then it drew me in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that’s impressive. Now that I’ve read a further book of hers Ladder of Years, I see A Spool of Blue Thread a little differently and I wonder a little about the wisdom of beginning through the anxiety of the mother about her son. I think I enjoyed the backstory more, learning how they to be where they are, but it is necessary to read on before we come to that. Great to see it being shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015. Enjoy your reading!

      Like

  14. Pingback: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Giveaway: win a copy of Anne Tyler’s ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ | Reading Matters

  15. Pingback: Ladder of Years | Word by Word

  16. Pingback: Man Booker Prize 2015 | Word by Word

  17. Pingback: Man Booker Prize Short List 2015 | Word by Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s