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A Spool of Blue Thread

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2015)
From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author--now in the fiftieth year of her remarkable career--a brilliantly observed, joyful and wrenching, funny and true new novel that reveals, as only she can, the very nature of a family's life.
     "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family--their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog--is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

358 pages, Hardcover

First published February 10, 2015

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About the author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. She has published 20 novels, her debut novel being If Morning Ever Comes in (1964). Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons , was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,550 reviews
Profile Image for RoseMary Achey.
1,373 reviews
February 2, 2016
The title of this book is well represented....think about a spool of thread. It just unwinds and unwinds, there are no highs or lows.

When reading A Spool of Blue Thread I kept waiting for the climax, but it never came....it just unwound and unwound. Yes, there were a few minor surprises, but not enough to save this book.

This is a great example of a popular author, dynamic publisher's marketing campaign and an attractive cover all working together to create a great deal of noise around a mediocre book.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
April 17, 2015
"The trouble with dying," she'd told Jeannie once, "is that you don't get to see how everything turns out. You won't know the ending."

This book was lovely. That's how I would describe it. I'm not going to sell it as anything it isn't - fans of fast-paced action and fantasy should look elsewhere - because this is a quiet, moving family drama; nothing more or less. And yet, that was more than enough to make this one of my favourite, beautifully-written character studies.

Sometimes there are those rare books that capture pieces of real life in such a way that you look at the ordinary as you have never looked at it before. Very few authors can successfully turn the mundane into art. There are those who try to mimic the successful few but they almost always fail. Anne Tyler is apparently one of those authors who can take such a simplistic story of family life and breathe so much humanity into her characters that the everyday becomes compelling.

This is a book about the Whitshank family - several generations of it. I lost the exact quote but I recall one point when a character is described as being "like most people - insufferable but likable". And that is how most characters are in this book. We are dragged into their lives, forced to care about them, and yet they are complex, annoying, difficult, selfish and lovable.

Tyler takes just pages - perhaps even just paragraphs - to weave dialogue into a dynamic we can understand. From the beginning, we recognise Abby for the caring and smothering mother she is and we see Red as the more critical and skeptical of the two. Then as their children are introduced into the story, we see that Denny is intelligent, selfish, rebellious and constantly running from his own life. We see the overbearing and strong Amanda taking charge of most situations, the kindly Stem who always puts others first, and Jeannie - a personality often forgotten in the chaos of family drama.

As Abby and Red get older, Abby experiences some mental blackouts and Red's hearing gradually declines, so their sons and daughters must come together and decide how to help their aging parents (who adamantly do not want help). The relationships, the rivalries and the love all intertwine in this story that combines insights into the Whitshank family history and their modern lives.

Books such as this one are often called "slow", but I didn't find it slow at all. I think if you pick this book up knowing what to expect and are ready to read a story about people and family, then you should be swept along by these fascinating characters. I, for one, read it in a single day.

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Profile Image for Jill.
1,188 reviews1,689 followers
February 10, 2016
Some time back, I learned this: you don’t just open a book by Anne Tyler, you enter it. You get introduced to the characters, take up residence with them in their Baltimore neighborhoods, watch them muddle through their challenges and triumphs, and inevitably, feel as if you’re saying a fond farewell to family members when you close the last page.

That’s the beauty of Anne Tyler’s writing. Her characters are quirky, eccentric, and so achingly real that they could step off the page and seamlessly walk right into your home. Virtually every one of her novels offers a heartbreakingly hilarious and often poignant look at f everyday families: marital secrets, sibling jealousies, skeletons in the closet, unexpected loss, and love unearthed in the strangest ways and in the strangest places.

A Spool of Blue Thread weaves its way into the tapestry of Anne Tyler’s works and offers its own charms. Like its predecessors, it takes place in Baltimore and focuses on a family – in this case, the Whitshanks. As the book traverses back and forth through time, we meet Linnie and Junior, their son Red, his wife Abby and their four children…and their children. The lovingly hand-crafted house where they reside becomes its own character, paying witness to four generations until “the filmy-skinned ghosts frolicked and danced on the porch with nobody left to watch.”

These fully-realized characters reveal themselves to us – the readers – as the narrative slowly surrenders its secrets. Anne Tyler’s characters are distinctly themselves but they could be anyone: they may say the wrong thing or take the wrong path and their lives are often messy, yet at their core, they are good people who are just trying to forge their way through.

And oh, how Ms. Tyler makes her insights seem so effortless. Here’s one character’s reaction to another’s forgiveness: “The sudden, alerted sweep of her eyes across his face had made him feel the way a parched plant must feel when it’s finally given water.” Or this: “Maybe when he was grown, she remembered thinking during his childhood, he would finally tell her what used to make him so angry. But then when he was grown she had asked him and he had said, “I don’t know, to be honest.” It all rings so true.

I’ve said little about the plot and that’s deliberate: it’s up to every reader to discover all the nuances of this family and what drives them forward. Anne Tyler has said this will be her last book and all I can say is, “Say it’s not so.”
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
April 1, 2015
The characters in “A Spool of Blue Thread” look like the same Baltimore family members we’ve socialized with for 50 years in Anne Tyler’s fiction. In fact, everything about her new novel — from its needlepointed title to its arthritic plot — sounds worn-out.

So how can it be so wonderful? The funky meals, the wacky professions, the distracted mothers and the lost children — they’re all here. But complaining that Tyler’s novels are redundant is like whining that Shakespeare’s sonnets are always 14 lines long. Somehow, what’s familiar seems transcended in these pages, infused with freshness and surprise — evidence, once again, that Tyler remains among the best chroniclers of family life this country has ever produced.

“There was nothing remarkable about the Whitshanks,” she writes. “But like most families, they imagined they were special. . . . They made a little too much of the family quirks.” We might, of course, mutter the same comment about Tyler, who’s been making a little too much of the family quirks since 1964. But for generations, readers have caught echoes of their own parents and siblings in her eccentric characters. The tightly wound humor and tragedy of her stories, delivered in prose that never draws attention to its graceful wit, demonstrate that every unremarkable family, wrapped in proud insularity, is special.

“A Spool of Blue Thread” introduces us to Red and Abby Whitshank, the parents of three successful, happily married children who have dutifully remained in their parents’ orbit. But it’s Denny, their fourth child, the best-looking one, who absorbs the bulk of their concern. A difficult teen, he found Abby intolerably embarrassing and everyone else boring. He got a girl pregnant, then later announced he was gay — no, scratch that: not gay. Over the years he’s shocked his parents with his dissipated life and especially with his apparent disregard for them. “What other middle-class American teenager lived the way he did,” Red and Abby think, “flitting around the country like a vagrant, completely out of his parents’ control, getting in touch just sporadically and neglecting whenever possible to give them any means of getting in touch with him?” Their “mystery child” is a chef, then a software engineer; he’s married, then he’s separated — who knows?

Tyler’s sentiments are perfectly calibrated to trace the desperation of these parents, pinging between annoyance and concern. For years, Denny has practiced a kind of passive blackmail, withholding himself for so long and so completely that when he graces the family at random moments, they’re deferential and gentle, cowed by his silences. During one pleasant visit, Red makes the mistake of asking, “Do you have a job?” and Denny vanished for three years. Is there a family who doesn’t suffer such a member, a loved one who makes you ashamed of how much you miss him and how little he needs you? Tyler knows exactly how affection weakens even our most determined resentment. She knows what mysteries we are to each other.

The plot revolves around another common family crisis: At 72, Abby begins experiencing episodes — erratic moments of distraction during which she sometimes wanders away from the house. And then Red has a mild heart attack. Their children rally. The youngest son moves into the house with his wife and three boys. But then — surprise — Denny arrives and announces that he’ll take care of everything. It’s an offer that sounds entirely sincere and completely unreliable.

Suddenly, the Whitshank house — too empty for so long — is too full, bursting with children and spouses and grandchildren, a cacophonous orchestra of emotional needs, buried resentments and conflicting best intentions, not to mention disagreements about how dinner should be cooked. (No one sets a better fictional table than Tyler, and there’s a classic meal in this novel.)

It’s a large group, but she conducts these characters so nimbly that they never dissolve in the noise. An extended scene on a leisurely Sunday afternoon in the back yard is some of the most lovely and loving writing Tyler has ever done. And when you consider what music she can play with this apparently static, muted material, “The Spool of Blue Thread” seems like an act of literary enchantment.

Yet we also get a clear sense of the strains building even as Abby and Red enjoy hugging their family under one roof again. And that’s not just any roof. Tyler understands the way people can feel rooted to property. The Whitshanks are “one of those enviable families that radiate clannishness and togetherness,” but much of that group identity is invested in their carefully maintained house. Red’s father built it, clung to it and passed it along to Red as a varnished emblem of the family’s social and financial success.

Indeed, what gives “A Spool of Blue Thread” such unexpected weight is its delineation of the provenance of this family home. Late in the novel, the narrative suddenly slips back to show Abby and Red before they were married, and then it fades back further still to tell the tragicomic story of Red’s mismatched parents. Among the several delights of this book is how effectively Tyler captures these earlier eras. She conveys their antique ideals about sex and marriage and what it means to be a success at a time when poverty sent people careening out into the world with nothing. The Whitshanks will eventually paper over their petty origins and construct a mythos as pleasant and solid as their home, but in the telescope of Tyler’s narrative, we can see the interplay of accident and willfulness, love and envy that created these complicated people who pretend they have no secrets.

From a different author, this domestic muckraking would be disillusioning and satiric, a searing exposure of a happy family’s corrupt origins. But Tyler never mocks her characters. Even when she’s having fun with their weird peculiarities and transparent short-sightedness, she’s usually a benevolent goddess. And yet it’s her surprising brutality that kills off any germs of sentimentality in her work. Her sorrow is never unbearable — but it’s never absent, either.

This review first appeared in The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Abby Huff.
83 reviews7 followers
December 8, 2014
I will be honest and say I did not finish this book. If it takes more than 100 pages for me to get interested it just is not worth the read. The characters were one dimensional and I felt like the story was not going anywhere. It might have eventually but there is to much for me to read to wait.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews587 followers
January 13, 2016
I just counted......
I own 6 -not yet read paperback books ( thrift book specials or freebies ), by
Ann Tyler, yet "A Spool of Blue Thread" is my very first novel I've read by this
wonderful woman.

I fell in love in Ann Tyler in a more indirect way than most of her fans. Being a late bloomer reader, myself, somehow, I missed her books. ( not intentionally).
But...this is the way I first 'melted' for Ann.

It was 3 years ago...2013: The San Jose Mercury newspaper ran a HUGE 2 full-length spread interview on Ann Tyler. I learned that Ann had never before - in 50 years
allowed herself to be interviewed she explained 'why now' . I was moved!!
Her new book, "The Beginner's Goodbye", was just being released. From that one
'amazing' article I fell in love with this woman ( author or not), I 'felt' her truth, her
exquisite beauty, ( she glows from being real....inside and out), she tapped into my own
wisdom, expanded my perception, and is a woman who listens for understanding....
and chooses love. That article was invaluable ...leaving a lasting impression!

My review for "A Spool of Blue Thread"...... is going to be the shortest review I've
written in a long time.

I felt so sad about Denny.......it hurt!

Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,155 followers
June 7, 2015
3.5 Stars This novel left me with mixed emotions.....

I liked the well-defined kooky characters.

I liked their descriptively inviting (well built) home.

I liked the surprising turn of events in the second half...and

I liked the significance of the Spool of Blue Thread.


I did not care for the abrupt transitions in time.

I would have liked a faster pace in the storytelling.

I really wanted to know more about Denny's mysterious life.....and

I would have liked a resolution to my many unanswered questions.

I did however, enjoy my first Anne Tyler read......the individual family stories were interesting with a bit of humor, often touching and certainly entertaining. Great book cover.....Excellent discussion book!!!

Profile Image for Jülie ☼♄ .
498 reviews22 followers
June 9, 2015

I hate to say it but I found this book a bit tedious and really hard to get seriously invested in.
It's not that it is badly written, because it isn't, and I had no problem with the delivery...it just didn't grab me...I kept reading on thinking it will pick up soon, something will happen, but it never really did. Or, when it did, it didn't have any of the emotive elements one would expect to be captivated by.
For the most part I found it only vaguely interesting, a bit like casual eavesdropping on an ordinary family get together...not uninteresting but not compelling either, as there were no really stand out moments in those lives that made the story riveting or exciting in any way.
For me, the only real bit of pick up came at around the last 25% mark, where it started to get a bit more interesting and slightly eventful, which helped my determination to see it through to the end.

So although I didn't dislike this book, it didn't do anything for me, and I was left thinking I could have sat on a train for a few hours tuning into the conversations around me for the same effect....or I could have read a different book, and maybe that's the thing, it's possible that it just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,717 followers
February 25, 2016
Anne Tyler's latest novel is another thoughtful story about marriage and family, and I cherished it.

A Spool of Blue Thread is about the Whitshank family of Baltimore. The novel covers several generations and different family perspectives, but the heart of the book was with the mother, Abby Whitshank. Abby loves and frets over her children and grandchildren, and she frequently invites strangers over to dinner if she feels they need someplace to go. But Abby is getting forgetful as she gets older, and sometimes gets lost going on walks. Her husband, Red, is going deaf, and some family members think the parents shouldn't be left alone.

I liked how the story unfolded — it opened in 1994 with a strange phone call from one of the children, and then progresses through the years, skipping ahead when necessary and showing different points of view. Halfway through the book, it jumps back in time and shows Abby as a young woman, on the day she fell in love with Red. We also meet Red's parents, and learn how they get together.

This is a lovely, poignant story, and it reminded me why I like Anne Tyler books so much. (My favorites are Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist.) She is skilled at bringing characters to life through the smallest of details, and each person reminds me of someone I know. It makes me want to reread some old faves.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,779 reviews14.2k followers
January 12, 2015
For many years Anne Tyler has been an excellent observer of human idiosyncrasies, human frailties and in particular of families, good and bad. In this novel we are introduced to the Whitshanks, mother Abby and father Red with their four grown children, at least grown at the beginning of the novel. Like most families, they do not always get along, they have secrets from each other and one doesn't quite want to fit into the family mold.

Delightful, amusing, poignant and so darn realistic. The novel starts in the present, goes back to the past when the children were younger and then even further back to Red's parents. See there is a house and this house has a special place in all their lives. Built by Red's father for someone else it became his in a questionable way.

Funny how many of the stories told within a family and passed down may often not be the whole truth. This novel reveals some of the inconsistencies in this family's stories. And Linnie May, she sure is some piece of work, funny how appearances are so often deceiving. That is the brilliance of Anne Tyler, she knows all these things about people and more importantly she knows how to write about them, making what many of us can identify in our own lives and families, oh so interesting.

If this is in fact her last novel, I for one will surely miss her wonderful stories.

ARc from publisher.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,027 reviews374 followers
June 3, 2022
Humanos Como Nós

Quem não tem uma mãe cusca, intrometida, uma melga amorosa que se cola a cada passo que damos?!...
Quem não tiver...facilmente imagina 😉

Quem não tem um pai hiper-preocupado, um espírito demolidor, sempre pronto a criticar e aconselhar ?!...
Quem não tiver...facilmente imagina 😉

Quem não tem um irmão rebelde, que desaparece e aparece sem dar cavaco, que se esconde, que foge de todos e sobretudo de si mesmo?!...
Quem não tiver...facilmente imagina 😉

O Carrinho de Linha Azul é a estória de Abby, Red e dos seus 4 filhos:
Dos seus medos, inquietações, rivalidades, segredos ...
É a estória de mães como nós, pais como nós, filhos como nós, irmãos como nós! De gente como nós e dos seus temas e problemas...
E por isso iremos estar lá... entre eles... observando-lhes cada gesto:
Veremos o braço de Red esticar-se para desligar o candeeiro de cabeceira; Abby apertar vigorosamente o cinto do robe rosa-gasto; ouvir o clique que corta a conversa telefónica de Denny com o pai....
Iremos conhecê-los, compreendê-los, amá-los!

Abby, Red, Amanda, Jeannie, Denny, Stem são humanos como nós. Personagens complexas e multifacetadas com muito para dar e explorar.
E é quase certo que iremos, dalguma forma, rever-nos nalguns deles!
O Carrinho de Linha Azul é uma estória sobre Nós os Humanos. Conhecê-los é conhecermo-nos!

Uma leitura imprescindível àqueles que pretendem dar mais uns passos no trilho do auto-conhecimento!!!👍
Profile Image for Arah-Lynda.
337 reviews532 followers
May 10, 2016
So tell me what is your favourite comfort food?

We all have them don’t we, that dish we turn to when feeling blue or just wanting to revel in hearth and home. For me that dish has always been beefaroni, not the Chef Boyardee shit, but real homemade beefaroni. Follow up a big dish of that, with warm Dutch apple pie and vanilla ice cream, paired with a glass of the good stuff, slippers on my tootsies and a good book and colour me content and life good.

Reading A Spool of Blue Thread brought these images to mind readily. It is a story about family, four generations of Whitshank’s and their Baltimore home with its grand and sprawling, full-length front porch. As we enter this story it is a late July evening and Red and Abby who occupy the house on Bouton Road are preparing to turn in for the evening when they receive a phone call from their son Denny. Denny is the best looking of Red and Abby’s four children and the one that has caused Abby the greatest amount of worry.

Which was not to say that Denny was bad. He was far more generous, for instance, than the other three put together. (He traded his new bike for a kitten when Jeannie’s beloved cat died.) And he didn’t bully other children, or throw tantrums. But he was so close-mouthed. He had these spells of unexplained obstinacy, where his face would grow set and pinched and no one could get through to him. It seemed to be a kind of inward tantrum; it seemed his anger turned in upon itself and hardened him or froze him. Red threw up his hands when that happened and stomped off, but Abby couldn’t let him be. She just had to jostle him out of it. She wanted her loved ones happy!

This was such an absorbing read; one might think I was reading about my own family. Every day life, every day moments, spanning three generations of the Whitshank family. As Zoeytron says in her spot on review, "It’s a quiet tale, well told.” There is no grand plot, no nail biting suspense, just a heart warming story of one family that could just as easily be your own. I was completely drawn in, compulsively reading, so in tune it seemed with everyone’s thoughts and feelings and oh so reluctant for the book to end. This friends, is comfort food for the soul.

My very first Anne Tyler novel. I want more, more, more!

Profile Image for Margitte.
1,177 reviews539 followers
June 15, 2015
There is nothing about this book I did not like.

Three generations of the Witshank family is introduced by the author in a low-key, no-frills-no-fuzz manner. They were not outstanding; they did not change the world; but they were the epicenter of what it means to be American.

The story is not linear, and the surprise, or rather mystery, of the family's origin, is delivered in the last part of the book. The narrative is character-driven.

What I take away is that we can all forgive ourselves for being ordinary and yet, and yet, have a story to tell that will not rock this world, but will at least explain what it means to be human in our lifetime and feeling totally okay with it. Each character was important enough to make a difference in how the family dynamic manifest itself in the collective history of time.

The author has a convincing, relaxing way of dealing with the plot and characters, engaging the reader word-for-word until the very end.

Certainly a great book to recommend. I will most certainly read this author again.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
688 reviews3,630 followers
January 26, 2016
This was one of the most beautifully written stories I've read for a long time! It was my first book by Anne Tyler, and it was one of those books that makes me want to immediately go out and get all of her other books. If they're anything like "A Spool of Blue Thread", they are masterpieces!
This is a very simple piece of literary fiction that focuses on its characters and their development. It is about a family of many members whom we gradually get to know. Anne Tyler has structured the storyline in a very interesting manner - she definitely knows how to master the plot in the best way.
Furthermore, Anne Tyler's writing is beautiful! I had to highlight several sentences, and the way she wrapped up each chapter poetically made me think of Shakespeare and his wrapping up of each scene. The curtains are closed, but they are quickly opened again in time for a new chapter.
I simply loved this! I didn't want for it to end. Now my only worry is where I'm going to start now with Anne Tyler and her other novels, because this one has left me eager to know more about her stories, her ideas and her impeccable writing.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,192 followers
March 8, 2015

Anne Tyler has done here what she does best , describing perfectly these less than perfect , very ordinary people with their quirks , dramas , secrets and resentments as well as their love for each other . It is so realistic in so many ways. We are able to laugh at the funny and cry at the sad of it all because this family may remind us in some ways of our own or someone's that we know . Who doesn't know a family with a black sheep like Denny ? Who doesn't know what sibling resentments from the past can do to these relationships when the children become adults ?

Abby is a quirky , retired social worker who is kind to the needy people she meets but doesn't always get what is happening with her four grown children . Her husband Red is obsessed with his house and his work in his construction company and he doesn't quite get what's going on in his family either . But it is clear that they love each other and care about their kids and grandkids. They are facing the challenges of aging and ill health and their children try to come together to help them . But old resentments and secrets rise to the surface and the dramas show us Tyler's amazing skill at characterization . I felt like I knew everyone in this family.

The story is told in parts. The first is about the present , then moves back in time when Abby meets Red and to his parents , Junior and Linnie Mae . This part of the novel just didn't grab me . I wanted to get back to what was happening in Red's and Abby's family . If it weren't for that , this would have been 5 stars for me .

I have loved Anne Tyler's writing over the years and she did not disappoint me here . I have read that this may be her last novel and I'd be sad if that were the case , but I could always go back and reread The Accidental Tourist , one of my favorites as well as all of her other books that I've loved .

Profile Image for Emily B.
442 reviews440 followers
October 25, 2021
Another easy listening audiobook!

This one just didn’t come together for me. The jumps between the times and generations didn’t work and I couldn’t see a clear reason for it. Some of the important events/feelings weren’t explored enough or explained.
Profile Image for Lena.
199 reviews91 followers
January 19, 2023
Classic family saga but about very boring family. Characters plain and simple and their skeletons in the closet are quite dull. Where's all the drama? (throwing hands in exasperation) So it was promising but didn't meet the expectations.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,585 followers
October 15, 2020
Anne Tyler has impressed me again, although initially I didn't think she would.

The first two hundred pages or so of this family saga were merely a moderately entertaining and engaging story of the Whitshanks, an elderly Baltimore couple. Abby occasionally has spells of forgetfulness, while husband Red is losing his hearing. What's to be done? Should one of their children come look after them in their handsome house?

The couple have so many children – three biological and one adopted – as well as in-laws and grandchildren and friends and occasional guests that it's a little hard to keep track of – let alone care about – all of them. Not that Tyler doesn't give us details about everyone.

The book also seems to have two or three starting points.

But then, after the long 200-page first section, Tyler does something really fascinating. And you begin to see what she's after, which is show the patterns that likely exist in all families.

Have you ever looked through an old family photo album and wondered: Who is that? Or: That person looks so much like so-and-so. Gradually, while sharing these photos, stories emerge, some that have entered legend, others that are shrouded in mystery. How true are those stories? And what's being left out?

That's what reading this book brings to mind. Besides people, Tyler explores the history of a house that the Whitshank patriarch, strangely named Junior, helped build. The house has stayed in the family for generations.

I never thought I'd feel so much for a modest little swing on a front porch. But in Tyler's magical hands it becomes a symbol of marital fighting and differences about class and upward mobility. It becomes a symbol for everything that's unspoken in a marriage.

It was worth the previous 200 pages to learn about that porch.

As one of the characters says near the end, quoting the dying words of The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West: "What a world, what a world."

Indeed. Tyler makes us see this world, and its people, with honesty and compassion. What a writer, what a writer.
Profile Image for Suz.
1,155 reviews600 followers
August 16, 2018
Excellent narration. A nice family saga told over three generations, one that I liked enough. Nuances such as the matriarch thinking her family are quite perfect and having to uphold appearances of the same were interesting. Are families perfect as they appear to be, is there any part of perfect at all? Stories of the oldest generation ending up married after a scandal - what a vixen - and younger generations being a bit screwed up and not knowing what life holds. Poor Denny! I thought for sure he would end up with a bipolar diagnosis. I loved the daughter in law who was earthy and sweet; I could learn a lot from her, and the grand kids that did not fight and drive their parents nuts. Lucky them!

As always, the audio concept usually creates some loss of certain parts of the story line, but that is part and parcel of this format [for me]. I will look out for this author again, next time not via audio.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews690 followers
July 23, 2015
Don't you just love to come home from work, slip into your favorite pair of sweats and a teeshirt, and settle into your comfy chair for the evening? This is the feeling I get when reading an Anne Tyler novel. Coming home would be the operative phrase. Pure pleasure.

The inner-workings of a family, the intricate meshing and chafing of grown siblings with leftover feelings from when they were young. It all comes through here. It's a quiet tale, well told.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,375 followers
August 14, 2015
4.5 stars This book was such a pleasant surprise. I almost didn’t read it, not for any particular reason other than it just didn’t sound that interesting to me. But I’d heard alright reviews and after it being longlisted for the Man Booker prize this year I decided to give it a try. And wow, what a fantastic reading experience!

I went the audiobook route for this one, and it was definitely worth it. It’s about 13 hours long, but it just breezed by. Kimberly Farr narrates and does a fantastic job at it, probably the best of any audiobook narrator I’ve ever listened to (granted I’m not incredibly well-versed in the audiobook world, but nonetheless she was phenomenal). She takes on each character with such a distinct tone and with great inflection, but it’s not gimmicky or ridiculous voice acting. It still seems really natural while maintaining the distinction among characters.

Conceptually, the story is very interesting. It’s sort of told in a backwards manner; starting in 1994 and working it’s way into the 2000’s, but then jumping back in time twice after that. Overall it traces three generations of the Whitshank family and their beautiful, big old house in Baltimore. The house itself is really a character all its own.

I was completely hooked within the first chapter, and the second and third chapters broke my heart and put it all back together again. Then the mid-section was a tad bit lackluster, but because Anne Tyler writes the characters in such a dynamic way, their average American lives took on a sort of cinematic drama. It felt like I was watching a play by a 20th century American play right, a sort of Edward Albee/Tennessee Williams vibe. And the ending came full circle and did a wonderful job tying everything together without being cliché.

I’m really interested in reading more Anne Tyler works now, if her other novels are anything like this one. I can highly recommend this one, and if you’re an audiobook fan definitely check it out.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books815 followers
May 2, 2020
Though I've read all of Tyler, I wasn't hurrying to read this one for some reason. An online group discussion of it next month prompted my doing so now, and I'm glad I did. As if in a pleasurable breeze, the pages flew by, especially during Part One, which is actually the majority of the book. At points I felt like I was reading about my own family, even to the extent that we've recently gone through and are going through some of the same events. I found Abby and Red's daughters not as delineated as their sons, but the two young women do marry men with the same first name, so perhaps that's intentional.

Nearing the end of the aforementioned Part One, Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters popped into my head. I wondered if an Indian reader might find some of the same things in this American novel that I did while reading his so-called domestic-drama also set in a particular evolving city.

While Part Two clears up some family mysteries for the reader (I'm not sure these qualify as secrets), I'm also not sure it added any great understanding to the family back in the future. Even without those details, I think we'd arrived at much understanding already, though I especially liked the nuanced portrait of Linnie Mae that is not at all available to the younger generation.

As far as the title goes, I spotted a throwaway reference to it near the end of the first part, so for the rest of the book, even into the short Part Three, I kept an eye out for its reappearance. It reappears 'off-camera', which was a little bit of a disappointment, as I would've preferred it to be shown to us in the same manner Abby's painted pottery house is.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,321 reviews2,142 followers
March 23, 2015
I always enjoy Anne Tyler's books and this was no exception. As usual she takes us into the lives of an extended family and with very little story but lots of conversation makes the characters into people we know well and are happy to share time with. The pace of the book is slow but infinitely rich in detail and information about the family member's relationships and experiences. I found myself as keen to get back to reading it as I ever am with a fast paced action thriller! I must also add that I was delighted right at the end to find out what the title meant. I was beginning to think it was some complicated metaphor the meaning of which I had overlooked., but it was something much more intriguing and touching. The author says this will be her last book. I really hope she is wrong.
Profile Image for Debbie.
250 reviews37 followers
February 14, 2022
It wasn't a bad read, Anne Tyler tells the story how she met her husband, first time reading anything from Anne Tyler and would like to read another one of her books. Won this book from Goodreads giveaways and from Anne Tyler
Profile Image for Charles Finch.
Author 25 books2,308 followers
February 16, 2015
My USA today review.


By my count I've now reviewed around 50 books for USA TODAY. I've never given any of them four stars until today: to A Spool of Blue Thread, the masterful 20th novel by Anne Tyler.

What makes it so good? Its subject is her most recognizable and essential one, family, its setting again Baltimore, its story told in her customarily sweet, wistful, comic voice. In other words, A Spool of Blue Thread has all the ingredients that come together to powerful effect in the author's best books, like Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, but they're also the ones that can make her lesser work feel insubstantial, slight in scope, a little wan.

What distinguishes this iteration, and places it firmly within that first class, is its risky narrative layout. For a little more than half its length, the book tells the present-day story of the Whitshanks – a classic Tyler tribe, "one of those enviable families that radiate clannishness." There are the aging parents, Red and Abby, the three loving children, and also of course the prodigal, Denny, who has the charisma of any ungraspable child. His return home seems initially to be the book's big story.

But then, suddenly, it flies backward from the modern day. First it returns to Red and Abby in their youth, as they meet; then, going still farther back, it depicts the early Baltimore years of Red's father, a suburban Gatsby, and his obsessive construction of the beautiful house to which Denny, who never knew him, will ultimately come back.

This structure gives A Spool of Blue Thread an infusion of intensity and energy, just when it threatens to flag. It turns out that historical fiction, which shows rather than describes the passage of time, is uniquely suited to render all that Tyler cares about – the meaning of family and memory, the desire for the preservation of what we love and the poignant consciousness that such preservation is impossible, the symbolism that exists as surely in daily life as it does in literature.

Take the Whitshank house, for instance, which in the hands of a less subtle writer might be a clunky device. Because we see it across different eras, watching how each generation treats its lovely specificities, its chamfered edges, its double pocket doors, the house comes to feel at once real and metaphorical – as houses do in life, as families do in life.

It's difficult to assess Tyler's place in American literary culture. On the one hand, it feels fair to compare her to domestic writers like Laurie Colwin and Adam Gopnik – beloved, limited. On the other hand, she's often too dark and querying for that comparison to work, more akin to the enigmatic Alice Munro, or, if you prefer, a direct influence on Jonathan Franzen, who also analyzes the painful recursions of family life.

The problem is that when a writer writes the same book more than once, even if there's some slight new pressure of emphasis, it's easy to reduce their achievement to a few themes. But A Spool of Blue Thread is a flight forward – a liberation, in the way it chooses to escape the Whitshank family in order to describe them.

Tyler, who's 73, has nothing left to prove. But she may still have new things to say.

Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,123 followers
December 31, 2017
Was that... it? Honestly was that... all? Because if so, I can cease to regret as of this moment not reading any of Anne Tyler's books before. This was possibly among the most mundane books I've ever read- in the most insulting fashion I can possibly mean mundane. If I were a person who called things pedestrian, I would turn up my nose and sniff it about now. It's about the most mundane of middle class families, trudging through the practicalities and problems of that life in the most matter-of-fact and predictable way. This is why I need to write more again and flex my reviewing muscles, because I'm not saying what I mean to entirely, but I have to tell you I could not have been more bored by this book. The only interesting storyline, the one I thought was meant to be the focus of the book (We Need to Talk About Denny, basically), wound up being a background thing and was never resolved. The other storylines didn't offer me anything interesting. I don't get it, are we still writing about class migration and chips on the shoulder about it, in 2017? Do we still think the suburban home and the sacrifices made for it are compelling? Particularly without people involved who make them so? I suppose the characters are very believable, and I've been into that lately. I'm all about small stakes stories, and stories about people who could exist in the real world, rather than just as literary ciphers. I am here for it. So this should have worked for me. But you still have to take those believable people and give them pathos, reveal why they shouldn't be underestimated, connect it all together in a brilliant circle. Given the title, I would have thought that Tyler knew that.

I don't know. I'm underwhelmed. I don't like using the term middlebrow anymore*, because I think its generally condescending and used to demean books that are largely about women and domestic subjects and I think that's bullshit, but if I did, I'd use it here. I'd be saying it with different content, meant to express a certain amount of evident writing training, vocabulary, evidence of familiarity with form, and some gestures at character development. But it's so empty. I felt like I was watching a primetime network drama, and a boring one at that, but one with lovely production values. It reminded me of a bunch of shows I watched that made me trust that they were going somewhere at the start, with actors that did the absolute best they could with the material and reinforced that belief, but then turned out to be leading nowhere at all. They lead you in circles, or lead you somewhere underwhelming, or simply got lost in love for the story they were telling, without remembering that they had an audience to get invested as well. I was deeply unsatisfied by the end, but it hardly mattered because of how badly the thing had trailed off into a series of confusingly uninteresting digressions long beforehand.

Are there better Anne Tylers? I had meant to read the generally well reviewed Dinner at Homesick Restaurant after this, but unless someone can make a very good case why I should, I think I'll be moving right along.

(*-So if you see it in my reviews in the past, I'm sorry, let me know, I'll remove it, you'd be doing me a favor letting me know. Ten years of on-and-off reviewing leads to a lot of visible evolution.)
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.4k followers
February 14, 2015
I'd rate this 3.5 stars.

I've been a fan of Anne Tyler for many, many years. In my opinion, there are few authors who can consistently weave compelling, moving stories about both the seemingly mundane and the more dramatic moments families experience.

Apparently Tyler has said that A Spool of Blue Thread , her 20th novel, will be her last. I tried not to let that fact influence my expectations or color my perceptions of the book.

Abby Whitshank has known her husband Red for as long as she can remember. They grew up in the same Baltimore suburb, and she can even remember the summer day in 1959 that she fell in love with him. Through the years the couple has lived in the stately old house his father built (a house that at times meant more to him than his entire family), raising four children and having their share of wonderful memories as well as arguments, frustrations, sadness, and struggles.

"The disappointments seemed to escape the family's notice, though. That was another of their quirks: they had a talent for pretending that everything was fine."

Although their relationship has grown a bit more cantankerous as they have aged, and following Abby's retirement from social work, both she and Red know they would be lost without each other. But after a series of health problems affect the two of them, their younger son Stem (aka Douglas), his wife, and his family move back into the house with Red and Abby, ostensibly to help take care of them, which doesn't sit too well with either of them. It also doesn't please their older son Denny, the one child who has caused the most friction in their lives. Denny, too, moves in to help.

A Spool of Blue Thread is the story of the joys, angst, and frustrations that are a part of family dynamics. It's a look at the secrets we keep, the lies we tell, what we say and what we don't, and how there are always people in your family you don't always understand. It's also a bit of a multi-generational love story, as the book not only looks at Abby and Red's relationship both at the start and in the present, but also looks at the relationship of Red's parents, Junior and Linnie Mae.

I have always loved Tyler's writing, and her use of language and storytelling is in fine form once again. Her characters are quirky and a little eccentric, but they have a lot of heart, and you really get drawn into their lives. I enjoyed this book a great deal, although it took a while for me to warm up to the section about Junior and Linnie Mae, because I felt that Junior was a fairly unlikeable character, although Tyler gradually unveiled his depth.

I wouldn't necessarily count this among Tyler's best, but it's another example of why she is one of the most enduring and celebrated writers of our time. I hope that she changes her mind and shares her talents with the world again, but if not, we have 20 wonderful novels to enjoy again and again. And for that I am truly grateful.

See all of my reviews (and other stuff) at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Sue.
1,271 reviews548 followers
November 26, 2015
A Spool of Blue Thread is the slowly unwinding story of several generations of a family living in Baltimore during much of the 20th century. This is my first experience reading Anne Tyler--which somehow seems unbelievable (though I remember enjoying the film of Accidental Tourist)--and I enjoyed it a lot.

Every family is it's own self, has its own identity, and that is certainly true of the Whitshanks. They seem almost a mirror--how do they compare to other families? Are they "every" family, as they initially appear and describe themselves? Or are they a more eccentric brand of normal like you and I (if you don't object to the comparison)--only perhaps more so? And once we learn more about the earlier generation!--Well claims to "every" family seem more feeble.

But that seems part of the point for me. Many families have odd ball members, lone wolves like Denny. The question is--how was he formed. Many have artsy, interfering mothers like Abby or single-minded fathers like Red. But the level of secrets between and among generations are what make the dynamics of this family and story so interesting for me. And Tyler writes it so well. She kept my attention.

Tyler creates moments from life so spectacularly spot-on. There is an old saying that nothing brings out family issues like weddings and funerals. The way she deals with these is very well done--particularly the funeral. I recognized some of those moments from my own experience.

Of course I'm left with questions at the end--not a bad thing in any novel. It indicates the author caught me in her net. Would Denny have been different if he knew less, I wonder? And who was the true Linnie?

Oh well I'll never know but I can muse. I'm very glad I made the acquaintance of the Whitshank family and Anne Tyler. And thanks to Constant Reader for an interesting discussion.

4 to 4.5*
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,733 reviews478 followers
August 4, 2017
Anne Tyler writes about families and marriage so well that I always close her books thinking how "real" her characters are. "A Spool of Blue Thread" is a multi-generational story about a Baltimore family whose patriarch had roots in a poor, rural town. He started a construction company in the 1930s, built his dream home with a wide front porch, but never quite fit in with his affluent neighbors who had more privileged backgrounds. The Baltimore home almost becomes another character in the story.

His son, Red Whitshank, married Abby and raised four children. Now in their 70s, they are having health problems and their children get involved helping them. Even the black sheep of the family returns home, and old resentments come to the surface. The Whitshanks are an ordinary family experiencing both conflict and togetherness. I enjoyed Anne Tyler's storytelling, humor, and quirky characters in this domestic tale.
Profile Image for Helle.
376 reviews374 followers
June 2, 2016
(3.5) Anne Tyler has created an entirely believable portrait of an American family in Baltimore. The Whitshanks are a family full of quirks, secrets, opinions and history. We follow their story from one generation to the next – though anachronistically, which is interestingly done – and we follow their ups and downs and how they deal with a death in the family.

The novel is enormously well-written. The characterizations are excellent; anyone wishing to build a story with believable, tangible characters – or believable, realistic dialogue - would do well to study Anne Tyler. But for some reason, perhaps because it felt so real, the story (or family) also felt a bit claustrophobic to me. Very homey. Maybe that’s because I come from a totally different background. As someone in my book club said about this book: ‘It’s very American’. America is obviously many things, so maybe my reaction is due to my being ‘very European’? A colleague who recommended Anne Tyler to me a while back previously recommended Jonathan Franzen’s The Correctionsto me, and I can see similarities. Both these novels are very much American novels, dealing with the American family as a kind of institution almost, for better or for worse (especially zooming in on parents’ relationships with their children, one child being the black sheep of the family). But I felt Franzen’s novel had more bite. While Tyler never succumbs to sentimentality, the novel is of the feel-good variety, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a question of preference (which I seem to be stating in a lot of my reviews lately. But it is).

Anne Tyler’s style is unobtrusive and not in-your-face literary. Her narration is full of ‘Well’ and ‘Oh’, as if the reader is sitting on the very porch that old Mr. Whitshank is so proud of and listening to the story. At other times, the dialogue and the detail – especially during their meals – make me feel like a fly on the wall of this family. Tyler herself claims that she doesn’t do plot. She already does characters, and that’s enough. I agree that there is little narrative conflict in the traditional sense, but there is plot; it’s the kind of plot that sometimes exists in families, though I have to say that my own (as far as I know) wouldn’t be able to boast of any scandals or secrets like the ones lurking beneath the apple-pie surface of the Whitshanks. (The minute I wrote this, I realized there was something hidden in the crevices of my father’s family that was never really mentioned and that I learned late in life. So maybe all families do have secrets or scandals. Maybe that is what Anne Tyler has sought to illuminate here).

What is most fascinating is how she unveils some of the false memories of the Whitshank family when we go back in time. So while some deem this a cosy novel, there are elements which point in the other direction. I’m still pondering the title. I’m glad I finally sampled Anne Tyler’s writing. I gather she has quite a following, and though I wouldn’t say no to sample another of her novels at a later stage (e.g. Breathing Lessons, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize), it wasn’t a perfect fit for me.
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