Saturday, 20 February 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread: Book Review | The Small Desk

They say a man’s home is his castle, and this is no different for Junior Whitshank. A Spool of Blue Thread takes you on a journey through three generations of Whitshanks: sharing the highs and the lows, and telling the stories of love and loss. The novel revolves around the oldest member of the Whitshank family, Junior, building a house for a client, which by a strange turn of fate becomes his own, and subsequently his son, Red’s.

It all starts out in 1994 Baltimore with the latest generation of Whitshanks – Red and Abby, and their children: Denny, Jeannie, Stem and Amanda. Immediately Anne Tyler takes you into a home that can’t move for family problems. It begins off with small issues that slowly evolve into bigger problems towards the middle of the novel.

The first page leaves you with a question for the rest of the book that becomes more and more irrelevant, but I think this is the point Anne Tyler is trying to make throughout the book is that family life is constantly evolving and stories go unfinished, become irrelevant or simply fade in time. We read about Red and Abby with their grown up children, but then unusually we are invited to hear the story of Abby and Red’s early relationship in 1959.

Later in the novel we are taken back to the 1920s and told the story of Junior and Linnie Mae, Red’s parents. It is a surprising story that the latest generation seem hazy about; in fact it is really told from Junior’s point of view and even Linnie Mae wouldn’t have known the true depth of the story.

It is a good read for those who are a bit nosey, as you are introduced to the book as though you are part of the latest generation but are able to look a little deeper at Red’s relationship and then his parents’ relationship. I always think it’s funny how you will never really know what your parents or grandparents relationships were founded on and how they have grown through time. Obviously, this is inevitable because you meet your parents when they’re adults and by the time you can hold any type of meaningful conversation they are well into their adulthood, and as for your grandparents, well you’ve only known them as pensioners! It is a strange thing about life, that you will never really know what your grandparents or parents life was like before they had you, and I think perhaps Anne Tyler feels the same, and wanted to explore this further.

I must stress, this book is not a page-turner; it goes pretty slowly but with some defining events throughout. The thing that makes you go back to read it again each time is the description of the characters: I felt I couldn’t picture what the characters looked like, but I understood what they felt like. Anne Tyler’s descriptions of emotions are probably the reason this book was shortlisted. Abby Whitshank is known for taking orphans and misfits into her home and looking after them and this is very much how you feel as a reader: that even though you don’t know them you are being allowed into the very core of their family.

I feel this book would make a good film; I can already see the young Linnie Mae being played by Reese Witherspoon. It reminds me of the film, A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers, as it is also set in a small American town and focuses on issues that any family could be beset by. It also focuses on the men in the family, which intentionally or not, Anne Tyler does in this novel. I feel I got to know the inner workings of the men’s thoughts more so than the women’s.

The book describes the messiness of life, the unpredictable nature of families, and the number of untold stories. It is one of those books that transports you into another world; I find myself remembering little bits from the book as though they really happened.


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