After a couple of disappointing reads, our group was full of praise and superlatives on Anne Tyler's writing style. It is glorious and really captures the family dynamic of the Whitshanks. It follows the story of three generations of the family and succeeds in celebrating what defines a family, the stories that are passed on and how everyone rallies together and puts aside differences in a crisis. Surely everyone will see at least similarity to their own family experience while reading this book. The problem that we have had had with American novels in the past is that we have found it difficult to engage and relate to unfamiliar surroundings and situations, but A Spool of Blue Thread manages to recreate these locations and characters and be both new and familiar.
The Whitshank family are a colourful bunch. The father Red is a stable part of the family, running his own construction company and providing for this children, offering some of them jobs as adults. Mother Abby is slightly less conventional, collecting a cast of characters to invite to dinner which are branded her 'orphans' by the rest of the family. The book opens with the worry and predictableness of the black sheep child of the family Denny. Despite going awol for several months at a time, he returns to the family when they need him and we all couldn't help but like him. Brother Stem (real name Douglas, but there is a lovely moment when we find out he reason for his adopted name) is the most Whitshank of them all, despite him not being a biological child. His struggles as revelations come to light feel real and his relationship with Denny is a complex one.
Daughters Amanda and Jeannie are always there in the background, visiting their parents with a cacophony of grandchildren and becoming involved in chores. But one of our favourite characters was Stem's wife Nora who takes on her role of moving in with her in-laws with relish - taking over the cooking and household chores and annoying Abby by calling her 'Mother Whitshank'. The main character of the piece though seems to be the family house on Bouton Road and we hear the romantic story in which it first came to be owned by a Whitshank - Red's parents Junior and Linnie Mae, who's real story is not as romantic as we are first led to believe. We go back in time to their story of how they came to live in Baltimore, which is both amusing and a little disconcerting. We soon learn that although the men have the credit, the real orchestrators of the family are the unassuming eccentric women. The colour blue is a recurring theme and the story of the blue swing on the porch is an iconic one. We also loved the description of the annual family holiday, when they are next door to the same family every single year but have never thought to speak to them, instead watching and surmising about them. This encapsulates one of the greatest human joys - people watching!
|Our box of goodies!|
We agreed that this a story written by a woman for women. Matriarchs across the world will sit up with sudden recognition while reading this book and it is one that I would definitely recommend to older women. However, our young group thoroughly enjoyed it (one read it in a day!) and even the man of the group conceded that although there was not enough action for him, it was brilliantly written and engaging. This is the point of the book. It is a study of family life, one that anyone who has been part of a family can identify with. It is subtle, easy to read, full of glorious descriptions and unforgettable, 'real' characters and for us should be the winner of the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction!
The winner will be announced on Wed 3 June. You can join in by voting for your winner here and join in with the conversation on Twitter with #ThisBookClub and #3WordReview of your favourite book written by a woman!