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Review: French Braid by Anne Tyler–UPDATED

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Belated thank you–I learned of this book via this post at A Life In Books blog. Won’t you please also click and read her review? Thanks

My Interest

Anne Tyler is a must-read author for me. I’m still working through her backlist–I’ve read many, but not all. There were years when I was busy as a Mom or in grad school and I missed some. Plus, each book lately has supposedly been her “last.” Her books have such normal people. I love that about them. Plus, I’ve been to Baltimore several times so I can clearly picture the setting.

The Story

“Mercy had a plan in mind….On Monday morning, as soon as Robin had left for work, Mercy went to her closet and retrieved a …Sunkist carton…and started filling it with clothes. Not all her clothes….”

Mercy has a fledgling career as an artist painting house portraits. She has a studio outside of her home and is feeling the need for independence now that her children are grown. Her husband Robin runs the family plumbing supply store in Baltimore. Their children Alice, Lilly and David are on their own. Has the time come for Mercy to make her own life? Or will the ties of long marriage and family love keep her making meatloaf and doing laundry for her husband in the family home? If she left, would the family notice?

Told in shifting timelines—long vignettes of each time period, we learn about each member of the family in true Anne Tyler style. To me Mercy and David were the focus, but Robin and the daughters, their husbands, and children got nearly as much attention. Aside from the brief story of Desmond (no spoilers) I loved this book. It was so Tyler! Daily life—salmon loaf, a corduroy-covered day bed, the family home tying them to previous generations. Mercy wears skirts or dresses—Tyler’s female characters always remind me of a coworker who wouldn’t wear pants because in the 1950’s her sainted mother had said anyone who weighs over 110lbs should never wear “slacks.” The very traditional German daughter-in-law wears exactly the kind of dresses that co-worker wore, but I picture Mercy keeping up a lot better.

There is something for everyone here—coming of age, and coming of age in later life, too. Family jealousy, but never in a bad, plotting revenge sort of way. Just the normal ups and downs of sibling rivalry kind….. Robin, clueless until he sort of gets it right. David, I loved him as a child using his little green army men to “veterinarians”—no not veterans, he meant the animal doctors. They even had meetings! I loved that. And, “Candle” or Kendal, the granddaughter who understands her GrandMom. That was so normal. “So normal” is a compliment.

“What was easier to adjust to, shockingly easy really, was their sudden lack of a social life. …he had often been conscious as he sat conversing [with friends] of a renegade thought so insistent that he had worried he might blurt it out by accident: “I like you very much, but do we really have to see each other?’” [David]

Tyler’s stories are always so richly layered but in the most ordinary of layers—like packages wrapped for Christmas in boxes and tissue paper that are reused year after year. Who got the Marshall Field’s box this year? That sort of way.  These are people who have underwear in their drawers with the waistband going. And shirts in their closets too faded to wear. Normal people. The families always love each other, but each in their own way. Each sure no one understands them, but not in any deep angsty way. Each generation assumes they will somehow shock or upset the older generation, but having seen it all before, the older generation doesn’t know to be shocked. That kind of life. I love it.

My Thoughts

This was a true Tyler story. I only disliked the Desmond storyline. And, I found the cover a bit off. I think there was a braided rug in the house or studio, but a French braid refers to  hair or a a horse’s mane–not a rug. Odd. Who cares, right? It was a good story.

My Verdict

4.0

French Braid: A Novel by Anne Tyler

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13 thoughts on “Review: French Braid by Anne Tyler–UPDATED

  1. I read an interview with her recently and she seemed like such a nice normal person — seems fitting with your review. I’ve only read “Clock Dance” of hers but I enjoyed it. I’ll look for this one too. Thanks for the interview!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m exactly with you on that one bit of the story that we disliked – and she portrayed him so well, as well. At least it was kinder than not, if you know what I mean. And the rug image IS weird as it’s clearly hair. We have a different cover here, though I read the e-book through NetGalley (I will buy a paperback when it’s out). I did really enjoy this one after doing my massive project on her last year; a really good and satisfying one, I thought, even a classic of hers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely review! I don’t always get to every Anne Tyler new release — but once I read one of her new books, I ask myself why I skipped any! I always appreciate her writing and how fully she brings to life “normal” people. This sounds amazing. Can’t wait to read it!

    Liked by 1 person

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