A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
But the surprise was, on Thanksgiving morning – and Denny most often avoided Thanksgiving with its larger-than-ever component of orphans – he phoned to say he and Susan were boarding at train to Baltimore and could somebody come meet him. He arrived with Susan strapped to his front in a canvas sling arrangements. A three-week-old baby! Or not even that, actually….
[Asked how he will manage without the baby’s mother:] “Oh Susan’s a bottle baby,” Denny said.
Abby had been reading books on how to be a good grandmother. The main thing was, don’t interfere. Don’t criticize, don’t offer advice. So all she said was, “Oh.”
“What do you expect? Carla has a full-time job,” Denny said. Not everyone can afford to stay home and loll around breast-feeding.”
“I didn’t say a word,” Abby said.
There had been times in the past when Denny’s visits had lasted just about this long. One little question too many and he was out the door. Perhaps remembering that Abby tightened her hold on the baby. “Anyhow,” she said, “it’s good to have you here.”
“Good to be here,” Denny said, and everyone relaxed.
It was possible he had made some sort of resolution on the train trip down, because he was so easygoing on that visit, so uncritical even with the orphans. When BJ Autry gave one of her magpie laughs and startled the baby awake, all he said was “Okay, folks, you can check out Susan’s eyes now.”
HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL BLOG READERS
The ‘orphans’ mentioned above are not children – they are people that the matriarch Abby fears will have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving, so she invites them over, rather to the disgust of her children. But that is part of the great tradition of the day – no-one should be alone, and you just do invite people whom you barely know.
The book follows three generations of the Whitshank family, and the house they live in – in Baltimore, of course, where all Tyler’s books are set. It has a complicated structure, going backwards and forwards in time, explaining people’s histories, with occasional shocks exploding in front of you.
I wasn’t easy with the way it moved around, and often had no idea even roughly what year it was, and the plot meanders along with nothing much happening then suddenly bursts into life. But on the other hand, no-one writes about families the way Tyler does, and her dialogue is both exact and hilarious. So in the end I decided to just enjoy it.
Denny as the unsatisfactory brother was both affecting and annoying, exactly as he would be in real life, and I loved his sister’s long diatribe that ended:
“…But most of all, Denny, most of all: I will never forgive you for consuming every last little drop of our parents’ attention and leaving nothing for the rest of us.”Specially for today, there is the son-in-law Hugh who ‘owned a restaurant called Thanksgiving that served only turkey dinners.’ Later he is going to sell the business and has to keep explaining patiently that whoever buys it could serve other things. His new business is called Do Not Pass Go and is a service for anxious travellers - ‘nothing to do with jail’. Taking us back to the days of both Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist, earlier books from Tyler.
As ever she manages to get your sympathy for everyone – horrible Merrick telling uncomfortable truths; Junior behaving appallingly but stuck: ‘caught in strands of taffy: pull her off the the fingers of one hand and then she was sticking to the other’; even the teenage daughter inappropriately dressed for a funeral.
Tyler says that reports that this will be her last novel are not quite correct. She should go on forever to delight her fans, but at least we have a solid list of her books to re-read.
More about Thanksgiving in last year’s special entry.
Tyler’s Digging to America is on the blog here.
The family and pies are from the Library of Congress.