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A Spool of Blue Thread
Cover of A Spool of Blue Thread
A Spool of Blue Thread
A Novel
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . . . " This is how Abby Whitshank always describes the day she fell in love...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . . . " This is how Abby Whitshank always describes the day she fell in love...
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    "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . . . " This is how Abby Whitshank always describes the day she fell in love with Red in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate an indefinable kind of specialness, but like all families, their stories reveal only part of the picture: Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red's parents, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to the grandchildren carrying the Whitshank legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn house that has always been their anchor.

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • The Telegraph • BookPage




  • Chapter One Late one July evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny. They were getting ready for bed at the time. Abby was standing at the bureau in her slip, drawing hairpins one by one from her scattery sand-colored topknot. Red, a dark, gaunt man in striped pajama bottoms and a white T‑shirt, had just sat down on the edge of the bed to take his socks off; so when the phone rang on the nightstand beside him, he was the one who answered. "Whitshank residence," he said.

    And then, "Well, hey there."

    Abby turned from the mirror, both arms still raised to her head.

    "What's that," he said, without a question mark.

    "Huh?" he said. "Oh, what the hell, Denny!"

    Abby dropped her arms.

    "Hello?" he said. "Wait. Hello? Hello?"

    He was silent for a moment, and then he replaced the receiver.

    "What?" Abby asked him.

    "Says he's gay."


    "Said he needed to tell me something: he's gay."

    "And you hung up on him!"

    "No, Abby. He hung up on me. All I said was 'What the hell,' and he hung up on me. Click! Just like that."

    "Oh, Red, how could you?" Abby wailed. She spun away to reach for her bathrobe—a no-color chenille that had once been pink. She wrapped it around her and tied the sash tightly. "What possessed you to say that?" she asked him.

    "I didn't mean anything by it! Somebody springs something on you, you're going to say 'What the hell,' right?"
    Abby grabbed a handful of the hair that pouffed over her forehead.

    "All I meant was," Red said, " 'What the hell next, Denny? What are you going to think up next to worry us with?' And he knew I meant that. Believe me, he knew. But now he can make this all my fault, my narrow-mindedness or fuddy-duddiness or whatever he wants to call it. He was glad I said that to him. You could tell by how fast he hung up on me; he'd been just hoping all along that I would say the wrong thing."

    "All right," Abby said, turning practical. "Where was he calling from?"

    "How would I know where he was calling from? He doesn't have a fixed address, hasn't been in touch all summer, already changed jobs twice that we know of and probably more that we don't know of . . . A nineteen-year-old boy and we have no idea what part of the planet he's on! You've got to wonder what's wrong, there."
    "Did it sound like it was long distance? Could you hear that kind of rushing sound? Think. Could he have been right here in Baltimore?"

    "I don't know, Abby."

    She sat down next to him. The mattress slanted in her direction; she was a wide, solid woman. "We have to find him," she said. Then, "We should have that whatsit—caller ID." She leaned forward and gazed fiercely at the phone. "Oh, God, I want caller ID this instant!"

    "What for? So you could phone him back and he could just let it ring?"

    "He wouldn't do that. He would know it was me. He would answer, if he knew it was me."

    She jumped up from the bed and started pacing back and forth, up and down the Persian runner that was worn nearly white in the middle from all the times she had paced it before. This was an attractive room, spacious and well designed, but it had the comfortably shabby air of a place whose inhabitants had long ago stopped seeing it.

    "What did his voice sound like?" she asked. "Was he nervous? Was he upset?"

    "He was fine."

    "So you say. Had he been drinking, do you think?"

    "I couldn't tell."

    "Were other people with him?"

    "I couldn't tell, Abby."

    "Or maybe . . . one other person?"

    He sent her a sharp...

About the Author-

  • ANNE TYLER was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her twentieth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 1, 2014
    Thoroughly enjoyable but incohesive, Tyler’s latest chronicles the Whitshank family through several generations in Baltimore, Md. The narrative initially tackles the mounting tensions among the grown Whitshank siblings as their aging parents, Red and Abby, need looking after. The youngest son, Stem, adopted as a toddler, moves back into the family house to help care for Abby, who has spells of forgetfulness. This causes resentment in Denny, the family’s eldest biological son, who is capricious and has been known to drift in and out of their lives. As matters come to a head in Abby’s life and the lives of her children, the story suddenly switches to an in-depth exploration of Red’s parents and Red and Abby’s courtship, delving into Whitshank family lore. The interlude proves jarring for the reader, who at this point has invested plenty of interest in the siblings. Despite this, Tyler does tie these sections together, showing once again that she’s a gifted and engrossing storyteller. Announced first printing of 125,000 copies.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from November 15, 2014
    Tyler's 20th novel (The Beginner's Goodbye, 2012, etc.) again centers on family life in Baltimore, still a fresh and compelling subject in the hands of this gifted veteran.She opens in 1994, with Red and Abby Whitshank angsting over a phone call from their 19-year-old son, Denny. In a few sharp pages we get the family dynamic: Red can be critical, Abby can be smothering, and Denny reacts to any criticism by dropping out of sight. But as Part 1 unfolds, primarily from 2012 on, we see Denny has a history of wandering in and out of the Whitshank home on Bouton Road just often enough to keep his family guessing about the jobs and relationships he acquires and discards (" 'Boring' seemed to be his favorite word") while resenting his siblings' assumption that he can't be relied on. This becomes an increasingly fraught issue after Red has a heart attack and Abby begins to have "mind skips"; Tyler sensitively depicts the conflicts about how to deal with their aging parents among take-charge Amanda, underappreciated Jeannie and low-key Stem, whose unfailing good nature and designation as heir to Whitshank Construction infuriate Denny. A sudden death sends Tyler back in time to explore the truth behind several oft-recounted Whitshank stories, including the day Abby fell in love with Red and the origins of Junior, the patriarch who built the Bouton Road home in 1936. We see a pattern of scheming to appropriate things that belong to others and of slowly recognizing unglamorous, trying true love-but that's only a schematic approximation of the lovely insights Tyler gives us into an ordinary family who, "like most families...imagined they were special." They will be special to readers thanks to the extraordinary richness and delicacy with which Tyler limns complex interactions and mixed feelings familiar to us all and yet marvelously particular to the empathetically rendered members of the Whitshank clan. The texture of everyday experience transmuted into art.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2014
    Gathered on the porch with her children, grandchild, and faithful dog, Abby Whitshank once more relates how she fell in love with Red on a glorious "yellow-and-green afternoon" in July 1959, and readers will know that they're in Tyler territory. Even as the family considers how best to care for Abby and Red, stories and secrets spill out from everyone. Another heart brimmer.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New York Times Book Review "Graceful and capacious . . . Quintessential Anne Tyler, as well as quintessential American comedy. Tyler has a knack for turning sitcom situations into something far deeper and more moving. Her great gift is playing against the American dream, the dark side of which is the falsehood at its heart: that given hard work and good intentions, any family can attain the Norman Rockwell ideal of happiness . . . She's a comic novelist, and a wise one."
  • Francine Prose, The New York Review of Books "Anne Tyler's novels are invitations to spend time in the houses of the Baltimore neighborhood that she has built--house by house, block by block, word by word--over her long and bright career."
  • Los Angeles Times "Tyler has proved again and again that a chronicle of middle-class family life in Baltimore can illuminate the human condition as acutely as any novel of ideas, albeit with a more modest demeanor . . . The Whitshanks [are] rendered with such immediacy and texture that they might be our next-door neighbors."
  • Wall Street Journal "Happily, A Spool of Blue Thread is a throwback to the meaty family dramas with which Tyler won her popularity in the 1980s . . . As in the best of her novels, she here extends her warmest affection to the erring, the inconstant, and the mismatched--the people who are 'like anybody else,' in Red's words."
  • Washington Post "An act of literary enchantment . . . How can it be so wonderful? . . . Tyler remains among the best chroniclers of family life this country has ever produced . . . Some of the most lovely and loving writing Tyler has ever done."
  • Newsday "It's been a long time since I read a book I wished would not end, purposely slowing my progress to save a bit for later. A Spool of Blue Thread was that kind of book . . . The Whitshanks are us, in a way, and this makes them endlessly interesting to watch, as well as very touching."
  • NPR.org "Well-built, homey and unpretentious . . . Readers of any age should have no trouble relating . . . We can only hope that Tyler will continue spooling out her colorful Baltimore tales for a long time to come."
  • Baltimore Sun "Among her finest . . . There's no novelist living today who writes more insightfully (and often humorously) than Tyler does about the fictions and frictions of family life."
  • Christian Science Monitor "A Spool of Blue Thread deserves to stand among Tyler's best writing."
  • Buffalo News "Tyler is easily the closest we have to an American Chekhov . . . [Her] books will outlive us all . . . Tyler has rarely been given credit as subversive, because her style is so simple, direct, and sincere. But the stories she tells often detonate their own structure, and resonate long after many more superficially dazzling novels have faded . . . No one has been doing it longer, and by now no one does it better."
  • The New Yorker "In warm, lucid prose, Tyler skips back and forth through the twentieth century to depict the Whitshanks."
  • Seattle Times "Fifty years, and Tyler's still got it . . . [She] is a master at creating clans; at crafting groups of diverse characters who nonetheless belong together, who seem vulnerable and honest and real . . . I couldn't put A Spool of Blue Thread down."
  • The Guardian "The extraordinary thing about all her writing is the extent to which she makes one believe every word, deed, and breath. A Spool of Blue Thread is no exception. [It keeps] one as absorbed as if it were one's own family she were describing, and as if what happened to them were necessary reading . . . What she has that neither Marilynne Robinson nor Alice Munro possess to the same degree is an irrepressible sense of the comedy beneath even the most melancholy surface . . . Such a joy."
  • Associated Press "Deeply moving . . . A Spool of Blue Thread is a miracle of sorts, a tender, touching and funny story about three generations of an ordinary American family who are, of course, anything but . . . Tyler's accomplishment in this understated masterpiece is to convince us not only that the Whitshanks are remarkable but also that every family--no matter how seemingly ordinary--is in its own way special."
  • Boston Globe "Tyler's genius as a novelist involves her ability to withhol

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