As Tolstoy reminds us in Anna Karenina “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Two of this year’s Man Booker Prize longlisted novels, Anne Enright’s The Green Road and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread both delve into the unique dysfunctional dynamics of Enright’s Irish Madigan family and Tyler’s American Whitshank family.
However there are some interesting similarities in the dynamics of both families. Off-centered matriarchs; four children, two male and two female in each family; prodigal sons in both families; and the parents of these children with unspoken of dark family histories.
Ms. Tyler’s Baltimore locale is most familiar to me. A Spool of Blue Thread is the twelfth book of hers that I have read since 1981. Just as Joyce captured the universal human experience in Dublin and Dickens as well in London, Tyler’s does the same in Baltimore. She also shares a flair of depicting quirky off-beat characters so familiar in both Joyce and Dickens.
On the other hand, I have read only one other book of Ms. Enright, the 2007 Man Booker Prize winner, The Gathering, a book that, frankly, I found depressing and somewhat overwrought. There just too much suffering and dying of AIDS in that book, and the chapter of Dan in New York in The Green Road recreated that particular disturbing scenario.
Now don’t get me wrong. Ms. Enright is a remarkably gifted writer, especially in her lyrical descriptive prose of the beauties and wonders of the isolated western Irish landscapes. When she, on much too rare occasions, lightens her mood, she is brilliantly funny. One could almost see the twinkle in those Irish eyes. Yet her prevailing tone, in both books, is definitely glum.
In stark contrast, Ms. Tyler’s Spool, although similarly fraught with delicate and troublesome family issues , somehow lightens the narrative, and gives the reader a chance to occasionally smile and even laugh at times.