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

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(Read caption) 'A Spool of Blue Thread' is by Anne Tyler.

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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.

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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.”


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