While I was doing my Anne Tyler 2021 project, I heard the news that she was about to publish another novel, “French Braid”. I think I still have a paper copy coming but I managed to nab an e-book from NetGalley and plunged into it as my first March read. I’ve not seen any other reviews of it yet apart from the ones on NetGalley, so I’m looking forward to finding out what other bloggers I follow think of it. I’m mainly glad I’ve finally read it – and it was a good one, although curiously, I found myself in floods of tears at the end, even though the ending isn’t violently sad!

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “French Braid”

(23 February 2022, NetGalley)

“Even her father, a few yards away from her, was swimming now toward shore. A passerby would never guess the Garretts even knew each other. They looked so scattered, and so lonesome.”

How many Anne Tyler novels open in a railway station? Quite a few of them, and stations are featured in more. Here we meet Serena and James, off home after visiting his parents for the first time, with mentions of James’ large (well, not by AT standards but substantial) family meeting her next time in her memory as she thinks she sees one of her cousins, but isn’t sure. There’s then some almost-snideness about people who have let their families get away from them, people from fractured families, for Serena is in that position.

That was in 2010, and somewhat oddly, we don’t meet Serena again apart from off-stage, being discussed by her mother, one of the three siblings this book is actually about. It’s quite a common Tyler trope, at least in the later books, to start modern then step back in time to fill in the details, although here we then go past 2010 to come right up to date into pandemic times in the latter part of the book. We follow the family, two sisters and a much younger brother, as they navigate childhood and young adulthood and consider why they make the choices they make. We watch sibling rivalries overtake the two sisters and the nature of the men they marry, all the while as their mother makes her own plans to have a second life after her one as a mother and wife. What will follow into the grandchildren – what tropes and looks, and how will they be woven together – or will they be?

Unlike in “Redhead by the Side of the Road“, we don’t have authorial side-comments coming in about the characters; it’s a much more traditional Anne Tyler book in that respect, among others. There’s the family holiday showing up the characters, the escaping wife trope (although here she pretty well does escape and gets to stay escaped, and people notice, while pretending not to). We have people inheriting a slightly quirky business (here a plumbing store). Someone’s neck is spindly and sad, someone marries a person who already has a peculiar child.

There’s a person’s character being shown up through their treatment of animals (someone takes a cat to a shelter when they feel he’s cluttering up their space; this was sweetly so upsettingly done although obviously the cat will be fine; weirdly, though, all the blurbs for this book suggest he’s the family cat, and he just is not!). There’s the big house with the workshop in the basement, but maybe subtler distinctions between groups of characters; no one has weird food or clothing habits, although one character lives by inventing slightly odd things, and no one corrects anyone else’s grammar. The division is between ages of children and amount someone can be trusted to be “sensible … or wacko”, although who is which is subject to dispute.

Now, somehow this book felt like it might be her last one. It felt elegaic – was it the subtlety, was it the coming bang up to date within the pandemic? I’m not sure, and I might be wrong; I’d be interested to know what other people think. I enjoyed the layers of family and the substance of the read, quite a bit longer than “Redhead”.

Thank you to Vintage for choosing me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “French Braid” is published on 24 March 2022.

Have you read this one? What did you think?