As with anything I get really into, I like to read around about it as much as I can. Thus, even when the hobby itself is reading, I like to read about reading almost as much as digesting the books themselves. Usually, that takes the form of reviews, and the first thing I did once I finished ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ was look at what other people thought about it. I was surprised. There couldn’t have been a more polar opposite response to a book than what I saw in front of me. I guess that is what the best literature is want to do – separate people into groups of people who loathe it and people who love it.
For your information, I would fall squarely in the camp of people who loved it, and I don’t tend to read these types of social/family relationship type novels. It was outside my comfort zone, but there was something…pleasant…about reading the story and following the trials and tribulations of the Whitshanks across four generations. Rather than follow a linear narrative, we hop around between the youth of the grandparents (later on in the novel) and the big family gatherings around an aging couple (where we begin the story). We see the arguments between siblings, between parents and the black sheep of the family and with extended family, whilst we never get a sense that the family don’t at least try to do what they generally consider to be the best for the good of the family.
Most of the complaints about the story seemed to be that the story went nowhere. Without wanting to go into too much detail so as not to spoil the story, there are moments that do shock and surprise, but I’ll admit that there isn’t one big ‘ahah’ moment, one big swerve or one big twist to have you furrowing your brow and mulling over it for days afterwards. Whilst this seems to be a deal breaker for some people who read the book, I couldn’t care less when the writing is as fluent and beautiful as that which Tyler commits to the page. She presents a family in the way that is recognisable to anyone who is the creation of a big family environment; the back-biting, the squabbling, the politics, but most importantly, the love.
The structure of the novel does go a long way to assisting the narrative in my opinion. As we get to see the two grandparents suffering through the perils of old age, with all that entails, we get a snapshot of their own parents and the difficult courtship that they went through. This makes the reader feel that we get a true glimpse of what it took to create the characters that we have begun to fall for, warts and all, making them feel even more valuable for their unlikely existence.
People may complain that the story doesn’t really move along at a cracking pace whilst offering twists and turns galore. I’m okay with that. The book meanders, and I was happy to meander along with it. It felt familiar, yet biting, comfortable, yet confrontational. Everything a good book should be, and more.