We start in 1959 with the Garrett family (father Robin, mother Mercy and their three children – Alice, Lily, and David) taking their one and only vacation. Although vacations are often a time for families to be together and explore or relax together, the Garrett’s seem like strangers to one another. The ripple effect of this vacation weaves through the family, like a ‘French braid,’ for decades.
When David, age 7 on the vacation, leaves for college, Robin and Mercy are faced with the empty next and Mercy sees an opportunity to expand her art studio. She does so slowly, hoping her husband won’t notice. Of course he does, but he doesn’t say anything – such is the nature of their family.
Alice and Lily maintain a strong connection to their parents, but David has avoided the family. Even when he gets married, the family learns of it through other means. But slowly we learn more about David, as well as the family, and how we are sometimes shaped by events early in family life.
Ever since I read Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant back in the early 1980’s I’ve been a tremendous fan of Tyler’s work. I believe that she is one of the greatest writers – able to make ordinary, extraordinary.
I think that I once wrote that Tyler captures what it means to be human better than any other writer since Shakespeare, but I think that it’s more than about being human – she captures and comments on what it means to be family. Every family has its secrets and Tyler exploits these secrets to show how people, in general, react to being individuals and members of a family unit.
There is humor and drama, bickering and love. Presumably, we all recognize some aspects of our own lives and families in French Braid, possibly thinking how glad we are that we aren’t this dysfunctional, or perhaps wondering how we can be as together as the Garrett’s. And this is part of the charm – Tyler isn’t steering us to make a specific discovery – she’s presenting, laying it out there for the reader to make the discoveries that are unique to each of us, based on our own family experiences.
Looking for a good book? French Braid by Anne Tyler shows us that Tyler is still at the top of her game writing about people and families.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Anne Tyler
publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
hardcover, 244 pages