This book stumped me. It’s not a bad book; in fact I rather enjoyed the storyline and the quirky characters. The title is fitting, yet at the end I felt like I was left holding the spool but there was still some blue thread on it. Maybe that is how Anne Tyler wanted it though, it leaves you to decide what you think will be the ending. It leaves it up to you to picture how the story unfolds after we turn the last page.
A Spool of Blue Thread follows the Whitshank family through their lives. It starts off with Red and Abby, their kids and grandkids. Red and Abby knew each other their whole lives and have a love and a bond that is both comical and heartwarming. Abby is a viciously attentive mother and a retired social worker. Red is a loving and distant father who works hard and loves his house and his family. The house; the house is where the story takes place, where everyone loves and suffers, learns and overlooks. This Whitshank family is strange, in a way a lot of families are strange. There is a mash of personalities that all clash and seem to work at the same time.
“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. Or maybe it wasn’t a quirk at all. Maybe it was just further proof that the Whitshanks were not remarkable in any way whatsoever.”
The book moves backwards in time to when Abby and Red were young, giving us insight into the personalities that these characters had before they had children. Tyler began to weave this web of information that you are free to interpret on your own. She began to give us understanding of who these characters were on a deep level, yet didn’t lay it out for us. We were free to do what we would like with this information, something I found both intriguing and frustrating.
Tyler then moves father back in time to Red’s father who build the famed house that the Whitshanks live in. Junior is a harsh man with a great deal of pride. Linnie Mae, Red’s mother is a stubborn woman who loves fiercely and uninhibited. Junior loved the house unconditionally and built his life and family around this house, using the house to shape the demeanor of his family. Tyler weaves their lives into a nice little quilt for you, leaving you to decide for yourself if this part of the story shaped any other part.
Then Tyler moves back to present day Whitshank and leaves us to construct the story of the Whitshank’s from here. We are left to decide the fate of each member and to decide what we would like to take from the story.
I feel like I traveled a thousand miles in this book, yet looking back I had to ask myself what I learned. It wasn’t a message that hit you in the face, no real stand out theme of the book; yet looking back I learned a lot. I learned about loss, friendship, family, depression, personal struggles, personality differences, aging, social status, and love. I think love was Anne Tyler’s message and although it didn’t punch me in the face the way other books sometimes do, it was there for you to pick up and take or to not take- ultimately Ms. Tyler left it up to me, which was very nice. I didn’t give this book 5 or even 4 stars because although it was beautiful and nice, it wasn’t wonderful. It didn’t pick me up and deposit me into a world. I read the words and they were nicely written and the characters were well developed but I craved more.
“But it has occurred to me, on occasion, that our memories of our loved ones might not be the point. Maybe the point is their memories—all that they take away with them.”