Anne Tyler’s book A Spool of Blue Thread [London: Vintage, 2015] has me in its thrall. The two chapters, 4 and 5, which are so rich in dialogue just perfectly capture the mood and the theme. Everyone is speaking but not everyone else is listening or hearing what is being said. It’s Chekov in Maryland.
Tyler recounts the history of three generations of the Whitshank family who like many an all-American family, have their roots in other parts of the country and the world. The central character is Abby Whitshank, wife of Red and much of the story concerns her and her children; Denny (in self-induced rebellion but no one quite knows against what), Amanda and Jeannie (both married to men called Hugh), and Stem; and Red’s snob of a sister Merrick, as they wrestle with growing up in a big house that Red’s father (called Junior!) built for a client but always wanted for himself. Abby has a generosity of spirit that is to her credit but can lead to complications that enrich the story.
The back story of how Junior Whitshank pulled himself up by his bootstraps and how he and Linnie Mae eventually moved into the house with the deep, wide porch with a swing, is recounted in a later section as are the stories and back stories of Abby and the other central characters. The family have their own treasured stories including how Abby fell in love with Red – “It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon” – There are surprises, revelations, delayed explanations and all the stuff of middle-class American life in the life-transforming 20th century leading right up to the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy which hit the East Coast of America in 2012. And it is told in the most exquisite, feather-light, yet loaded with meaning, prose. Like the very best of fiction, it all seems so real.
Sad to admit that although I enjoyed the film made of The Accidental Tourist this is the first of Tyler’s books I have read. Must do better!