To paraphrase the opening line of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, all families are quirky; each family is unique in its quirkiness. This is what came to mind as I read Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread. Just as a spool of thread slowly unravels, Anne Tyler’s novel slowly unwinds to reveal the lives of four generations of the Whitshank family. It is the very quirkiness of this family that makes them unique and yet so recognizable and engaging.
In a quiet, slow-moving family drama, Tyler realistically portrays her characters with all their eccentricities, petty squabbles, sibling rivalries, and secrets. Hovering in the background is the house they live in, rendered with such loving detail and given so much importance that it seems to emerge as another character in the novel.
The first half of the novel is stronger than the second half, and the ending was disappointing since there was no sense of closure. This is not a fast-paced novel in which the reader races from one exploding event to another. It is a novel about people. And when it comes to writing novels with realistic characters that seem to step off the page, Anne Tyler is mistress of the craft.