Spectacular observations

Linda Thompson






French Braid by Anne Tyler, Penguin Random House, $35 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. This is a novel about family, the “French braid” of the title — although we don’t learn that until near the end of the book. It’s about the way families are woven together, come apart but are always entwined in some way, even though they are separated by differences and fallings out. As the older wife of one of the family says: “This is what families do for each other — hide a few uncomfortable truths, allow a few selfdeceptions. Little kindnesses. And little cruelties.” It covers several generations and several decades in the life of the Garretts. An incident on a family holiday will have a powerful effect on the entire family for many years to come and create a rift that is never really healed. Tyler is a consummate observer of people, particularly men. Her domestic fiction is renowned for clarity of vision and well-drawn characters. In this, each third-person narrative is from a different point of view and covers years. From the family holiday in the late 1950s to today’s pandemic constrictions, which forces families apart, yet brings them back together in odd ways. The now-grown son is asked to care for his grandson during lockdown, people reassess their connections. It’s a delight to read from a spectacular observer of ordinary things. —