A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD: On the Ordinary Family


9780553551037By Anne Tyler
Read by Kimberly Farr
Random House Audio | Feb 10, 2015 | 810 Minutes | ISBN 9780553551037

Paperback: Random House Large Print | Feb 10, 2015 | 560 Pages | 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 | ISBN 9780804194723

Hardcover: Knopf | Feb 10, 2015 | 368 Pages | 6-1/4 x 9-1/4 | ISBN 9781101874271

E-Book:  Knopf | Feb 10, 2015 | 368 Pages | ISBN 9781101874288


Audiobook provided by request from publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinion presented herein is my own except as noted.


“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . .” This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.

Brimming with all the insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.

My Take Oblong

There are hundreds of reviews of this fine piece of literary fiction around, most of them written by critics more erudite than I.  I am not going to try to create a review of this story that would be considered for entry in the NYT Book Review or even that of my local newspaper — it’s not what I do for genre fiction and I am not going to do that for literary fiction either.

Looking at other reviews is not something I do unless I am confused by a story. I did here though and found reviewers had had a personal experience with the book.  One thinks it is about mortality, one about family saga, another about memory coloring stories.

For me, this book struck a couple of chords.

  • I was impressed by repeated assurances that this family felt special in its stories and quirks.  But the omniscient narrator lets us know they are actually very ordinary, and this begins with the house.  After all, it is not some grand palace that the builder covets, but it is viewed as special to this family.The family has an interesting, if very short, history on the paternal side.  In that it is a bit unique, but then it’s  start is at a time when the country was remaking itself through depression and war.  A lot of families came up from nowhere and not much.And, in the way Tyler describes the history and the characters and the personalities I was constantly reminded of my own experiences of family and people. I am struck by how Anne Tyler describes people so clearly and with such depth that she points out types of people we recognize in the same way I experience Jane Austen doing so.I think much of my experience with A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD is that it is about the ordinariness of life and family and the special nature of the ordinary.

    There really is no “ordinary,” but at the same time no one is seriously that special.

  • I was also surprised often by how fluidly Tyler moves back and forth through decades and generations.  At times, I found this confusing, or maybe, unsettling – like being on a large boat in rough seas.  I am not certain, but this might have been because I was listening to and not reading the story.Not that the narration wasn’t excellent, because it was — Kimberly Farr may be to the American voice what Davina Porter is to the voices of Great Britain.  I just find that when there is a lot of motion between time and characters that audio may be a less effective format than print or e-book.As I listened and pondered this trans-generational novel, I wondered if maybe the story is being told from the house’s point of view — is the narrator the house?

As always, I want to understand the title in relation to the story.  Often in genre fiction it is merely about being catchy, but in literary fiction I always feel there should be meaning. There is a spool of blue thread, but also, a spool of thread is of course symbolic of connection and flow. A blue is fluid, like water, bright like the sky, dependable, like a pair of jeans.

Anne Tyler is certainly one of America’s great authors, especially that of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  She is skilled with translating her own observations and experiences into narratives that connect us through the beauty of her prose, and the commonality of the experience.  But, she doesn’t weigh us down with pedantic condescension and grand ideas.  She speaks about the ordinary and the special and helps us see the beauty in the common experiences of humanity.  In this she reminds me of a painter, like Morandi, who took everyday objects and painted them in such a way that we can see the exquisite nature of the ordinary.


Links Blue Horizontal


Publisher: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/246387/a-spool-of-blue-thread-by-anne-tyler/#

Anne Tyler on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnneTylerAuthor

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Spool-Blue-Thread-Novel/dp/B00RY8A2RC/ref=tmm_aud_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1430401967&sr=1-1

B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-spool-of-blue-thread-anne-tyler/1119611972?ean=9780553551037&itm=1&usri=9780553551037&cm_mmc=Random%20House-_PRHEFFDF5A7F1–9780553551037-_-PRHEFFDF5A7F1–9780553551037-_-9780553551037