Generations Unspooled

Generations Unspooled

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A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler's latest novel, is about the dimensions of our parents and grandparents and the impossibility of knowing them as separate beings. Tyler's generations evoke the time they live in and she marks them with familiar rites of passage--the move from the country to the city, city to suburb, home to an apartment requiring less upkeep. 

In another book, I'm reading now, one of the characters makes a statement that parenting a child and parenting an adult are wholly different things. And that one can only hope that you like your child (and visa versa) to make this adjustment - so fraught on both sides. 

In A Spool of Blue Thread, the Whitshanks are the clan navigating aging parents and sibling roles.  The novel flows from the present to the past.  The now chronicles the aging mid-generation in this story, Abby and Red Whitshank and their four grown children.  The gap between the parents and their adult children is thrown into sharp relief when Abby Whitshank starts to have memory lapses and unexplained wanderings.  Each child plays his or her own role and brings their baggage to the task of "helping" their parents. 

In many ways, the children are just as elusive to the parents. The novel starts with a dissatisfying call from the oldest son Denny.  Denny has a habit of dropping in and out of his family's life without warning.  Denny's dissatisfaction with life dominates the family's dynamic.

The family home plays a starring role.  Large and lovingly crafted by the patriarch of the Whitshanks -- Junior.  The house was originally a construction project that Junior angled to buy out from under the clients he built it for long ago.  Red inherits the house and the women in their lives adjust to living in the home that is someone else's dream. 

As the book progresses, the story regresses into the courtship of Red and Abby.  As their world builds, Junior and his wife come into their own as characters.  We see where the rough edges of the Whitshank story as they happen and then reset as they are passed down generation to generation. 

I wonder if knowing our parents as something other than the roles in which we need them, would ease the expectation and encounters that seem to be a bit out of everyone's control as one gets older. 

About the Author
Anne Tyler is the Pulitzer-prize winner author of 20 novels, including The Accidental Tourist and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.  She currently resides in Baltimore, MD where A Spool of Blue Thread is set. 




About Lori Theisen

Lori Theisen is a co-founder and managing editor of The Literary Cafe. A journalism major before she got swept up into the world of corporate marketing, she always wanted to indulge her passion of books, culture and food.