Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 23

Here’s my book review of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.
There’s a saying in show business: Give them a new story that’s stood the test of time. Anne Tyler, who is possibly America’s most revered living novelist, has done just that. She’s presented us with a new, fictional extended family with all their foibles and melodrama, and placed them in the setting we know well from so many of her books – in the community of Roland Park in North Baltimore and in a hand-crafted old home with varnished hardwood floors, meticulously hung pocket doors, and vaulted ceilings. The Whitshanks are a quirky, close-knit family of builders, craftsmen, and nurturers. And this house is their pride and joy. Its stately endurance through a family saga of three generations lends a sense of timelessness – but Tyler’s story is all about the passage of time and the influences our short lives have on each other.
Another time-honored Hollywood maxim: The main character grows stronger as his villain opponent becomes meaner and stronger. To her credit, Tyler not only ignores this rule, she defies it. This story has no single main character – unless it’s the house. And, as in all of her books, there are no vicious opponents. The engines of conflict whir almost entirely within the family. Adversaries that seem the most obnoxious, inconsiderate, and spiteful ultimately show us their redeeming qualities.
In every Anne Tyler novel there’s a conspicuous bad boy. In A Spool of Blue Thread, Denny shows up on the first page. And throughout the story, he’s obnoxious, inconsiderate, and spiteful. And he’s the one his saintly mom loves best, and eventually, we do, too.
Authors, your Hollywood agent or your book editor will tell you to raise the stakes to life and death. The dreary result is on-screen violence – shootouts, and fiery crashes, and bloody mayhem. But Anne Tyler quietly and bravely won’t go there. She gives us a no-fault auto accident and a sibling quarrel that ends with punch in the nose.
So how does Tyler do it? How by defying the rules does she engage us? Her narrative slows down to the pace of daily life. She gives us none of her own opinions, but a stream of meticulous detail about meals, clothes, woodwork, plants, weather, money problems, idle thoughts, and petty grievances. And in focusing the marvels of the mundane, she helps us appreciate the joys of living our own ordinary and wonder-filled lives.
For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My book written for Anne Tyler fans is Christmas Karma, about a dysfunctional family coping with the holidays, narrated by an angel with a wacky sense of humor. Catch these podcasts at
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