Review: A Spool Of Blue Thread


A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD by Anne Tyler (Bond Street), 357 pages, $32 cloth.

Rating: NNN

There’s a reason why Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler (The Accidental Tourist) is one of America’s most-read authors. She combines emotional complexity with wholly relatable material in observational page-turners.

All those elements come together in A Spool Of Blue Thread, her story about major changes in the lives of the Whitshank clan over four generations. 

The narrative begins with Abby and her husband, Red, increasingly agitated by a mysterious phone call from their underemployed, mostly absent son Denny, but then moves back and forth in time to examine family histories, relationships and, ultimately, secrets. 

In Tyler’s world, relationships shift and characters develop seamlessly. Red’s father, Junior, is basically forced into his marriage with Linnie – a complicated type who fills you with both admiration and disapproval – but he soon adapts in ways that are profoundly human.

Red and Abby’s ethereally beautiful daughter-in-law Nora, the wife of their adopted son, Stem, somehow comes across as both too good to be true and wholly grounded.

Tyler pays close attention to the Whitshank men’s passion for making things with their hands. Red is in the renovation business, and his father is a meticulous builder who has fixed up his dream house, much to his distress, for someone else to live in, until happenstance (maybe) changes that. The attention to detail Tyler brings to descriptions of the doorknobs, the porch, the swing – at one point a major plot point – is delicious.

I don’t know whether it’s ironic or fitting, given the title, but Tyler leaves some threads untied. She flirts in the first chapter with the idea that Denny might be gay, but that tidbit’s just left there to die. Denny remains mysterious to the end, though plainly messed up, and we don’t learn why.

But Tyler makes unusual situations believable in an absorbing story that captures the intricacies of family jealousies and loyalties. | @susangcole

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