The Whitshanks live in a lovely, carefully crafted home with a huge, welcoming porch in a nice neighborhood of Baltimore. The senior member of the clan, Junior Whitshank, built the house himself for a prominent family but then managed to scrape together the money to buy it after they moved out; he had always thought of it as “his” house and was biding his time until it truly could be his. Junior and his wife, Linnie Mae, are long gone now, but their son Red lives in the house with his wife, Abby. Their four children grew up there, and three of them live nearby. The fourth, Denny, has always been unreliable and kept secrets from the rest of the family, popping in and out of their lives as he’s felt like it over the years.
With Abby and Red in their 70s and Abby experiencing some little memory issues, the grown Whitshank children decide to keep a better eye on them, so the youngest, Stem, and his wife and three young boys move into the house.
A Spool of Blue Thread examines these characters and their interactions with each other — and the house, as it’s almost a character on its own. The story is mostly set in the present day but works its way up at the beginning from a couple of decades ago and then spends a short time going back to the back story of Junior and Linnie Mae and the early days of Red and Abby’s relationship.
As with all of Anne Tyler’s books, the family is relatable. Denny’s ways of keeping to himself and guarding his life from the rest of the family, and their varying feelings and reactions over the years, feel authentic. Abby’s feelings about aging are spot-on. But the book never comes together with a real plot arc. For most of the book, it seems as if it will come “to something” at the end, but it really doesn’t. It’s more of an inconclusive examination of a family. While I enjoyed reading about them, I was disappointed with the lack of something bringing it all together.
Rated: Mild, for occasional mild language and a few uses of slightly stronger language. There are references to sex but no scenes with any detail.