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A Spool of Blue Thread

Cover of A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread

A Novel

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize
"It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . ." This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves 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 father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red's grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.
Brimming with all the insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler's work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize
"It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . ." This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves 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 father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red's grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.
Brimming with all the insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler's work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.

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  • From the cover 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."

    "What?"

    "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.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Narrator Kimberly Farr's experience with character-driven novels is evident from her nuanced performance of this compelling story about four generations of Whitshanks and the Baltimore, Maryland, home that bore witness to their public and private histories. One key to Farr's success with this audiobook is the wide range of emotions she employs to capture the characters' individual temperaments as they cope with marriage, parenthood, aging, and adult sibling rivalry. Although reading male dialogue is not Farr's strong point, her consistent voices and excellent sense of pacing connect the listener with the family members and the rhythms of their everyday dramas. Anne Tyler's twentieth novel explores the complex evolution of a family as the Whitshanks--singly and together--face the inevitable changes that come with the passage of time. C.B.L. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine
  • 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.

  • The Bookseller, UK (Book of the Month) ". . .Tyler is as fleet and graceful as a skater, her prose as transparent as ice . . . We get swept up in the spin of conversations, the slipstream of consciousness, and the glide and dip of domestic life, then feel the sting of Tyler's quick and cutting insights into unjust assumptions about class, gender, age, and race . . . Tyler's long dedication to language and story [is] an artistic practice made perfect in this charming, funny, and shrewd novel of the paradoxes of self, family, and home." --Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)

    "Tyler show[s] once again that she's a gifted and engrossing storyteller." --Publishers Weekly

    "It is wonderful to pick up a novel from a bonafide literary superstar. A Spool of Blue Thread is Anne Tyler's twentieth novel and it shows in every flawless sentence . . . A stunning novel about family life which just rings so true--it depicts the bonds and the tensions, the love and the exasperation beautifully . . . A terrific novel."
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A Spool of Blue Thread
A Spool of Blue Thread
A Novel
Anne Tyler
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