Best Book of the Week!
I haven’t read much Anne Tyler lately, but having just finished A Spool of Blue Thread, I think I should read more. This is one of those novels that seems to have more layers, the more you think about it.
Red and Abby Whitshank live in a lovely house in a Baltimore suburb that Red’s father Junior built for a client years ago. The house was Junior’s pride and joy, and he was constantly adding to it and refining it. Red, also a builder, has kept it in tip-tip condition. But now Red and Abby are in their 70’s. Red has recently had a heart attack, and the family gathers to decide what to do after Abby begins having gaps in her memory.
The family can sometimes be contentious, and their most troublesome member is Denny. Abby has always had a habit of inviting in strays, what her family calls her “orphans,” in an attempt to re-create the welcoming atmosphere in the house when she visited as a girl. The children have always resented these extra presences. But when Denny was four, Abby took this habit to extremes by insisting on taking in the orphaned son of one of Red’s workmen, a two-year-old boy named Stem. Denny is clearly jealous of Stem, and so is moody and unpredictable. He travels around from job to job and doesn’t tell the family about his life. He is undependable, leaving at the drop of a hat, and then can’t understand why no one asks for his help.
By the time Denny arrives, expecting to move in to help Red and Abby, Stem and his family have already rented out their house and moved in. Although there is some comic tension about who is helping whom, the family is all together again with the girls visiting frequently, and they enjoy telling their family stories.
After a tragic event, the novel moves back in time to the day when young Abby fell in love with Red. This has always been one of Abby’s favorite stories, but now we see a different side to it and to her.
Then the novel moves back farther in time to examine the relationship of Junior and his wife Linnie. At first, we’re shocked by some of its revelations, but we learn that human relationships are deep and complex.
This is a lovely novel about family stories and secrets, about how different people’s realities differ, about love and forgiveness.