Tag: Anne Tyler

#BestsellerCode100: A Readers’s Review of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge. This novel is categorized as Literary Fiction and was nominated for the Booker Prize.

This post contains spoilers.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

A Spool of Blue Thread is the latest novel (and possibly the last, according to a recent interview) by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Tyler.  In  looking over the list of twenty books she has written, I was surprised to discover that I had not read any of them.  How is that possible, since all of the titles sound so familiar? Literary fiction is not my usual reading choice, though, so that likely explains it.  And I’ve never been one to pick up a book just because it’s popular or on the bestseller shelf.  A Spool of Blue Thread, therefore, is my introduction to Anne Tyler and her character-driven novels.

The Wrong Title

First off, let me state that the book has the wrong title.  While blue is definitely a color that is mentioned throughout the book, the spool of blue thread is a very small part of the book.  Instead, the house that Junior Whitshank built for a client and eventually bought for his family’s residence is an integral part of the story – it could even be considered one of the characters – and so the book might more aptly be titled “The House on Bouton Road.”

Character Driven

Tyler does a nice job of fleshing out her characters, revealing both strengths and foibles through their interactions with family members.  As in many families, birth order determines the characters’ actions and family dynamics.  The opening chapter is devoted to Denny, the youngest child until the family quasi-adopts the younger Stem. Denny’s prickly demeanor, his obstinacy and anger, and the way he distances himself from the family, sometimes disappearing for years at a time with no contact, create issues for the family throughout the book.  His storyline is the nearest thing to an actual plot and resolution that I could find.

Family Stories

As Roberta states in her Writer’s Analysis, the Whitshank family has two stories that they tell and retell.  The family tells these stories with pride, as they show that family members acquired things (or people) they wanted by working patiently to those ends.  But the stories also reveal that these things were acquired through stealth and possible chicanery, and maybe even some amount of lying and backstabbing on the part of Merritt concerning her best friend’s fiance.

One story that is not part of the family lore is how Linnie Mae and Junior met and eventually married.  At the beginning of the chapter that reveals their relationship, it appears that Junior holds all the power and Linnie Mae is his under-aged victim, but by the end of the chapter it is obvious that Linnie Mae is just as intentional and devious as Junior.  Eventually Junior realizes that he’s been the unwitting “victim” of Linnie Mae’s designs to leave her hometown and get married and that Linnie Mae is not the gullible and naive young girl she seemed to be.  I enjoyed this back story of Junior and Linnie Mae as it revealed the quiet power that the matriarch of the Whitshanks had and showed that daughter Merritt’s actions in acquiring her husband might not be totally due to traits she had inherited from her father, but possibly also from her mother.

Why Read Literary Fiction?

As I previously stated, literary fiction is not my normal choice of reading material.  I prefer a book with a well-crafted plot and a satisfying resolution, a book that takes me somewhere I’ve never been and allows me to experience something I’m not likely to do myself.  But Roberta and I have noticed that whenever we read a book classified as literary fiction, we end up discussing family situations and family dynamics from our youth.  A Spool of Blue Thread was no exception.  Roberta’s family took in “strays” when she was a child, as did my husband’s family, and my family had a member who was “farmed out” as a teenager.  Obviously these books, whether we like them or not, are providing us with food for thought and topics for discussion.  Maybe that’s the point of literary fiction – not to take you to some new place, but to take you back to an old place or time in your life and allow you to see it from a fresh perspective.

Are you a fan of Anne Tyler? Do you have a favorite Anne Tyler book that you would recommend, one that would give me a better understanding as to why her books are so popular?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 83. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) – Discussion begins July 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Today let’s take a look at A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler from a writer’s perspective (the discussion started here).

This post contains some big spoilers.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This novel follows the lives of a Baltimore couple, Red and Abby Whitshank, and their family.

It is literary fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.

Characters

Anne Tyler is known for her character-driven fiction, and there’s plenty of evidence of her forte in this novel.

She introduces the main characters in the first sentence.

Late one July evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny.

It’s pretty clear that these three share main character status, rather than having a single protagonist. You could argue that Abby was the main character, but (spoiler alert) little of her back story is given compared to Red’s, and she dies before the end. Red isn’t a clear protagonist, either. If you had to choose only one, you could make a reasonable case for Denny, although it is often his absence that has the biggest impact on the family. He is also the character who has grown and changed the most by the end of the book.

Dialogue

Because she has won the Pulitzer Prize and because this is her twentieth novel, we’d expect that Anne Tyler’s dialogue would be superb.  That’s why it was surprising to find a glaring example of “maid and butler” dialogue on page 4. (As Brandon Sanderson explains, Maid and butler dialogue occurs when characters chat about details they would already know solely as a way to inform the reader. ) Abby speaks first and Red answers.

“Where was he calling from?”

“How do I know where he is calling from? He doesn’t have a fixed address, hasn’t been in touch all summer, already changed jobs twice that we know of and probably more that we don’t know of …”

Obviously Abby already knows everything that Red says, except whether Denny had mentioned where he was calling from.

The whole thing could be prevented by lopping off all but the first sentence.

“How do I know where he is calling from? He doesn’t have a fixed address, hasn’t been in touch all summer, already changed jobs twice that we know of and probably more that we don’t know of …”

Seeing this mistake in the light of the otherwise sparkling dialogue is kind of endearing.

Setting

With the exception of a trip to the beach, most of the action takes place in the family home in Baltimore. The house was built by Red’s father Junior. It is so central to the story that it becomes like another character.

 

Themes

Themes are important aspects of literary fiction. In A Spool of Blue Thread, the family has two stories that they tell and retell. Both are about a family member who waits patiently to obtain what he or she desires. In the first story Junior builds his dream house for the Brill family and then after a number of years convinces the Brills to sell it to him. The same thing happens when Merrick steals her friend’s fiance, Trey.  After she marries him, she realizes he wasn’t much of a catch. In a story that isn’t part of the family’s storytelling tradition, Linnie waits five years, until she is eighteen, before she leaves her family to find Junior.  (Perhaps that story isn’t repeated because Junior broke the law when they became lovers when Linnie was thirteen.)

Another theme is the women are the ones who choose their men in relationships. One of the family stories reveals that Merrick chose Trey, even though he was engaged to her friend. Once she decided, she single-mindedly won him over.  Abby chose Red over Dane when she spotted Red counting tree rings. In the earlier generation, Linnie decided that she wanted Junior, at a great cost to herself and largely against his wishes.

Plot

The plot is not linear, but goes back and forth in time.  In the conversation between Anna Quindlen and Anne Tyler in the back of the book, Anne reveals she intended to keep writing the stories of the family’s ancestors, traveling back through the ages. Eventually she grew tired of the ancestors, however, so she stopped with Linnie and Junior.

She also reveals that she is “hopeless with plots.” She lets her characters tell their stories.

Discussion

If you enjoy character-rich literary fiction about family relationships, this novel is for you. It is as warm and comfortable as a hand knit sweater.

The complex dynamics between characters feel realistic. The black sheep son, the closely-guarded family secrets, the conflicts, and the struggles of the children wondering how to best help their aging parents will resonate with many people. For example,  Junior’s battle with Linnie over what color to paint the porch swing is the kind of trivial conflict that emerges from deeper power struggles that are so typical for many couples.

Like a hand knit sweater, the novel does have a few flaws. The plot was the weakest part of the book. The extensive backstory of Linnie and Junior’s relationship seemed unnecessary and out of place, although to be fair it did add to the themes. The book would have been stronger if those sections had been condensed or even left out entirely.

Overall, A Spool of Blue Thread is the kind of novel you can wrap yourself up in on a rainy day.

Have you read A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 83. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) – Discussion begins July 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 84 A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.

This post does not contain spoilers.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This novel follows the lives of Baltimore residents Red and Abby Whitshank and their four children.

It is literary fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.

Have you read A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion begins.

The next book is number 83. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) – Discussion begins July 10, 2017.

#BookBeginnings A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

It’s time to start the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Anne Tyler’s novel follows the lives of a Baltimore family, Red and Abby Whitshank, and their four children.

It is literary fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.

First Sentence:

Late one July evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny.

Discussion:

Someone recently told me that a novel should reveal who, what, when and where early in the first scene. Anne Tyler introduces who and when in the first sentence.

What do you think? Would you read a book that didn’t introduce everything right away? Do you think different genres might have different rules, such as mysteries giving less away than historical fiction? Do you know any examples where the author waited past the first scene to reveal setting, time, or a main character? Did it work for you?

Does this first line entice you to keep reading?

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