Thanksgiving: American Families & Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

published 2015

spool of blue thread 2

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.”

spool of blue thread 3


Thanksgiving is a great American celebration, and one of the things I am thankful for is the writing of Anne Tyler, so she makes for the ideal seasonal entry.

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.


  1. I enjoyed this one, but it was not my favorite of hers. A reminder that we all have families that drive us crazy at times.

    1. I know what you mean, it's not my favourite - I had cool criticisms, but in the end couldn't resist those family conversations, so well done.

  2. What a rich subject for a writer, Moira - family dynamics. Even loving families can have their issues, and if you add in a problem, it just magnifies the whole thing. And it's interesting, isn't it, how those childhood things with siblings can come out again later...

    1. Too true Margot, and very much a theme of this book. I like the way Tyler takes such a very specific time and place and type of people, but makes in universal. I think every family would recognize something of themselves there.

  3. Great choice for Thanksgiving, Moira. I love the photos. We had friends visiting the weekend before Thanksgiving and she was talking about all the pies they were having for Thanksgiving.

    Seems like I ought to read this author, since I like to read about families. I know I read one of her books long ago. I suspect it was Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant or The Accidental Tourist, since those are the only titles that ring a bell at all.

    1. I loved the picture! - it seemed the perfect Thanksgiving image.
      You should give Tyler another try when you have time - she does sweep you into her world, and make you see the similarities among our families.

  4. Happy Thanksgiving Moira! I detect you have fond memories of Thanksgiving from the years you spent in America. For Canadians the Thanksgiving holiday comes in October. We are way too far into winter to hold a fall holiday in late November.

    1. You detect like Holmes, Bill! I loved Thanksgiving, and am happy to say I have a group of friends here who celebrate the feast either because they are ex-patriates or, like us, they used to do it.
      I've never wondered why the Canadian holiday was so much earlier - a satisfying explanation. A lot of people from Seattle used to travel up to Vancouver the day after TG, it was a bit of a thing.

  5. I think I can manage without these books thanks.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving, Moira! I'm with you on Anne Tyler's writing, her easy pace and style. You can sit down to a good read. She mostly writes about families, I think,

    1. Yes and to you and your family too Prashant. Yes, what I love about Tyler is she makes one family stand in for all of us...


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