Review: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

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“I don’t know why it is,” Abby said, “but these last few years the house has just always seemed the wrong size. When your father and I are alone, it’s too big, and when you all come to visit it’s too small.”

The Whitshanks have always lived in the house on Bouton Road. Red Whitshank, the patriarch of the family, has lived there since he was a small boy. His father, Junior Whitshank, built it with his own hands, making sure that each and every detail was perfect. The building and upkeep of the house became the centre of Junior Whitshank’s life. So, some years later, when Red’s parents were both suddenly killed by a freight train when their car stalled on the tracks, it was natural for Red and his wife, Abby, to step in and take it over. And, as their lives progressed, they too filled the house with children, laughter, love and the inevitable misunderstandings that accompany family life.

The book starts with Abby and Red discussing their troubled and unreliable son, Denny, who has recently called to tell them he’s gay only to promptly hang up before they can respond. Later we learn that Denny has often avoided his family but that once, while working as a cook in a New York restaurant, he invited his family to attend his wedding to the waitress, Carla. Later in the book, Linnie Mae, Red’s mother, tells how she met Red’s father, Junior Whitshank.  The narrative is skilfully interspersed which adds interest to the story as well as allowing the reader to compare and contrast the personalities of the different characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which made me feel as though I were sitting at the dining room table with my grandmother, listening to her tell stories of family members I’d never met, and some that I had.  Tyler’s writing drew me in with its honesty, humour and well-placed, perfect details and made me want to stay within her pages for as long as I could. Just as many garments can be mended from one spool of thread, so can those in a family be patched together from pieces of the same cloth.

I look forward to reading more of Anne Tyler’s novels in future.

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