Anne Tyler’s latest addition to her expansive output is unfortunately a meandering disappointment. The sprawling, time jumping narrative suffers from a lack of focus and simply does not have an engaging and clear protagonist. The novel follows Abby and Red Whitshank, a couple married for nearly 50 years who have four children, but at times it is really the tale of their beloved house.
The house is a more clearly drawn and defined entity in the novel than several of the Whitshank children, but this house is so lovingly described that it becomes a vital character in its own right. The novel traces the creation of this lovely home in a quiet neighborhood of Baltimore over several decades as it shelters generations of the Whitshank clan.
This is a novel that feels simultaneously overstuffed but malnourished: Tyler tries to cover several generations of the Whitshank family history while not spending nearly enough time with each story strand to fully explore it. Readers are tempted with an intriguing storyline that seems like it will stretch on for chapters only to end abruptly as a new strand of the story is dealt with, and this start/stop style of storytelling does grow trying as the novel wears on.
Even mediocre Tyler writing stands far above most novels published any year and despite the uneven quality of this novel, there is still clear skill on display here. Tyler is a master of tone, and her soothing narrative voice is able to guide the reader through the bumpy plot points.
This is definitely not the best introduction to Tyler’s oeuvre (I highly recommend “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant for Tyler newcomers) but for longtime fans of Tyler’s work, and completists, then A Spool of Blue Thread will again prove that Tyler is the premier chronicler of a certain swath of American family life.