A Spool Of Blue Thread Summary

Anne Tyler

A Spool Of Blue Thread

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

A Spool Of Blue Thread Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.

A Spool of Blue Thread (2015), the twentieth novel by American author Anne Tyler, follows the Whitshank family, a Baltimore clan of four generations—elders Abby and Red and their children and grandchildren—in a narrative centered around the sprawling family home that has always served as their anchor. Their lives, loves, and losses make up the core of the novel. Exploring themes of the ties that bind family, betrayal, expectations, and how far people will go for love, A Spool of Blue Thread initially received mixed reviews from critics but went on to become a commercial hit well-received by its audience. It was nominated for several awards, most prominently being shortlisted for both the 2015 Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Abby and Red Whitshank receive a phone call from their middle child, Denny. He has been missing for months; he tells his father he is gay. Red reacts with an upset gasp. Denny quickly hangs up; they are unable to call him back because they do not have his number. Abby, angry, starts coming up with reasons for why Danny might have turned out to be gay, and Red says he regrets marrying a social worker. The Whitshanks are not only bound by blood, they are bound by their stories. Red and Abby in particular love to tell the story of their courtship, as well as how they came to live in their sprawling house on Boulton Street. Red paints his successful father as a man of great intellect and street smarts, but he comes off to many as a con man.

Abby, who has recently turned seventy, is showing the first signs of dementia. She wanders off and gets lost, often calling their dog, Brenda, by the name of a dog from decades ago. The family has four children—Amanda, Jeannie, Denny, and their adopted son, Stem. Stem was taken-in when his father, Lonesome, died. Abby’s memory problems become clear to everyone when she wanders out into the street during a thunderstorm in only her nightgown. Stem convinces his family that they need to move back to the family estate to look after their parents, especially after Red suffers a minor heart attack. Red owns and runs the family construction business, and defying doctor’s orders, goes back to work only days after the heart attack. Stem and his wife, Nora move back to the estate with their three children and collie. Nora and Stem have a loving marriage, but she is deeply religious and strict about it, which often causes conflict with the Whitshanks.

Denny hears about his parents’ problems and decides to come home as well. The house is crowded, and Stem tries to tell Denny he is not needed. Denny, resentful, implies that Stem is not a real Whitshank, which sets up an escalating conflict between the brothers. Abby gets lost coming home from a pottery class, and the entire family searches the neighborhood for her until they find her on a neighbor’s porch. A doctor says there is no sign that Abby has Alzheimer’s, but he cannot find exactly what is wrong with her. Two days later, Abby takes the dog for a walk, still calling her by the wrong name. The dog gets off the leash and runs, and Abby chases it into the street. She is hit by a car and killed. The family is devastated by Abby’s death; Red shuts down, not talking to anyone. It turns out he has his hearing aids off. After a funeral, mainly for appearance’s sake, the family returns home to mourn. Abby’s best friend and neighbor, Ree, asks them if it might be time to sell the house. Red agrees that he has no use for the place on his own, and decides to move into an apartment. Stem and Red go through Abby’s old papers and find a contract written by Abby. It reveals that Stem’s birth mother is BJ Autry, an old neighbor of the family. She never came forward to claim her son. Stem confronts Denny with the information and finds out that Denny already knew. The two brothers come to blows over who will get the home. Eventually, they decide they should sell it. Nora helps Red find an apartment, and he picks a spare, run-down one. The women are horrified, but he says he does not care about the appearance; he just wants it to be serviceable.

A flashback takes the reader back to Red and Abby’s first meeting. Although Abby was dating another boy at the time, she eventually left him and chose Red because she could tell he was a good and decent person. Another flashback reveals the hidden history of Red’s parents, Junior and Linnie Mae. When they met, Junior thought Linnie Mae was older than she was. They had sex, and after he found out she was only thirteen, he begged her to keep his secret. However, the young couple was soon discovered and Junior run out of town. Linnie Mae, ostracized by her family, was treated as an outcast. When she turned eighteen, she left the farm and headed to Baltimore to find Junior. They had a rocky courtship, but eventually got married. Junior started a construction company and built the family house. Although he built it for a man named Mr. Brill, he tricked Mr. Brill by making the house look like was in a crime-ridden area of the city. He bought it from the owner for a cheap sum. In the present day, we see the end of the Whitshank legacy in the family home, as the house is sold and Red moves away to his apartment.

Anne Tyler is an acclaimed American novelist, the author of twenty novels. She is best known for Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, and Breathing Lessons. All three were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with the latter being the 1989 winner. She is also the 1985 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Six of her books have been adapted into theatrical motion pictures or television films.