Anne Tyler's 'A Spool of Blue Thread' divides critics

Some, including the Monitor, found the book to be one of the best titles released this month, but another critic declared the book to be 'bland' and 'disappointing.'

'A Spool of Blue Thread' is by Anne Tyler.

Anne Tyler’s novel “A Spool of Blue Thread” is receiving a wide range of reviews, with some critics praising it as one of the best books to be released this month and others dismissing it as merely a retread of her past novels.

“Blue” follows multiple generations of the Whitshanks family, who live in Baltimore. The story progresses from great-grandparents living in the 1920s to great-grandchildren living in the present.

Both the Monitor and Amazon selected “Blue” as one of the best books of February, with Monitor staff writing that “the writer has lost none of her signature charm. Tyler fans – new and old – will be delighted.” Amazon editorial director Sara Nelson called the novel “vintage Anne Tyler.”

Library Journal writer Beth Anderson of Michigan’s Ann Arbor District Library agreed with the praise, writing that “[Tyler’s] writing has lost none of the freshness and timelessness that has earned her countless awards and accolades. Now 73, she continues to dazzle with this multigenerational saga, which glides back and forth in time with humor and heart and a pragmatic wisdom that comforts and instructs.”

However, Publishers Weekly had more mixed feelings about the novel, with staff writing that the book is “thoroughly enjoyable but incohesive… [a section] delving into Whitshank family lore…  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.”

And New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani found Tyler’s novel to be the opposite of fresh. “It recycles virtually every theme and major plot point she has used in the past and does so in the most perfunctory manner imaginable,” Kakutani wrote. “Members of the clan feel like merely generic figures in a middling middlebrow novel: oddly lacking in emotional specificity and psychological ballast… children are delineated in similarly bland, abstract terms… The problem is that these characters have insinuated themselves so shallowly in the reader’s mind that it’s hard to care much what happens to any of them… a disappointing performance by this talented author, who seems to be coasting here on automatic pilot.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to