They complimented every single thing about Carla they could think of, including the tattoo of her dog’s name in the bend of her left arm.
She’s in her element exposing the small tensions of family life (p117):
The Whitshanks held two opposing opinions about what to do with their wakeful hours, and they had long ago argued the subject into the ground.
While I enjoyed meeting the family over the three generations they lived in the house, as deeper and deeper secrets were revealed, the scant plot meant I didn’t rate it as highly as other novels of hers I’ve read. And the son-in-law’s plan to establish a travel agency for hyper-anxious travellers like his cousin (p111):
She packs everything, for every possible eventuality. She thinks her house mysteriously senses that she’s about to leave it; she says that just hours before a trip it will spring a leak or develop a sewage backup or a malfunction in the burglar alarm. The instruction she writes for the dog sitter are practically novels. She starts to suspect her cat has diabetes.
had me yearning to read The Accidental Tourist, my all-time favourite, once more.
Savour this novel for the fine writing and beautiful characterisation but, if you haven’t come across Anne Tyler before, you might be better off meeting her first in one of her earlier novels. (Alternatively, in addition, check out this excellent review from Eric Anderson, The Lonesome Reader, which I came across after I’d drafted mine. He identifies Anne Tyler’s novels as being about the horrific fear underlying genteel middle-class Baltimore life; in A Spool of Blue Thread that fear is about the discovery that everything the family relies on was acquired on the sly.) Thanks to Chatto and Windus for my review copy.
I wasn’t going to mention Red’s sister, Merrick, but, given that Charli Mills is calling for 99-word stories about nutty aunts, I decided to give her character another think. She’s probably the least happy of the family, having stolen her best friend’s boyfriend in order to marry into wealth, and never seems entirely comfortable on her fleeting visits to the family home. But I feel it’s more in keeping with the spirit of Anne Tyler to base my own flash around my long-dead quirky aunt whose name I’ve given to the mother in Sugar and Snails (although my aunt was much nicer). It’s more memoir (which you know is not my thing) than fiction, more sketch than story, but here goes:
Your green shoes damned convention. You read everything from cereal packets to Tolstoy with the print barely inches from your eyes. Faddy new diets swallowed your widow’s pension, yet you baked for days before our visits, your table groaning with scones, seed cake and gingerbread, as if you liked our noise descending on your home.
Your friend was a clown in a circus; he sent you postcards from his tours. Your favourite dress still hangs in my wardrobe, though, even at sixteen, I couldn’t do up the zip.
I wish I could ask if you wore it for him.