Writers & Company

Anne Tyler on A Spool of Blue Thread

Having grown up in a Quaker household, Anne Tyler says she is very comfortable with silence. Fortunately for her legions of fans, that silence does not extend to her writing. Her latest novel is A Spool of Blue Thread.
Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Anne Tyler lived in Montreal for several years in the early 1960s. (Doubleday Canada)

John Updike said of American novelist Anne Tyler that she is "not merely good, she is wickedly good." Raised in Quaker communes in the Midwest and North Carolina, in 1967 she moved with her husband to Baltimore, which became her turf and her setting. She is known for titles like Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist. Her latest novel, her 20th, is A Spool of Blue Thread.

In a rare interview, Eleanor Wachtel speaks with Anne Tyler about her life, her work and her new novel.

ON BREAKING FREE FROM FAMILY EXPECTATIONS

I think that in my adult life I always worried that I would just repeat the humdrum qualities of my family life. Not any terrible sins, but just the worry that I'd grow up and lead the same life as they did. So every now and then I would make these sudden, wrenching left-hand turns. Like deciding to marry an Iranian out of the blue, which as it turns out was a very good decision, but only by luck! Because basically I was looking around saying "What would be the most different thing I could do?" I just thought I'd be different and wrench my life away from any kind of pattern that my family might be living.

ON UNBREAKABLE FAMILY BONDS

The reason that I'm interested in families is because generally, families do stay together. There may be divorces, but it seems that the children and the parents just have to be together for life. It's a fascinating situation for a novelist to deal with — how are they going to cope with this? They're totally incompatible sometimes, how are they going to manage?

ON MARRYING AN IRANIAN IMMIGRANT

Because of my husband and his family, I've always felt I have so many little scenes I could share about what it's like to be an immigrant, what foreigners say about us and how foreigners feel they are being treated. When my husband became a [U.S.] citizen, the girls and I asked if we should give a party for him, to celebrate. And he said, "Why would I want to celebrate losing my nationality and becoming something else?" So what we did was instead of a party we gave him this T-shirt we'd had printed up that said "Foreigner" across the front, which unfortunately turned out to be a rock group, which we didn't know at the time. As Americans, we tend to think that people are so lucky that they get to be immigrants here, but no, not necessarily.

Anne Tyler's comments have been edited and condensed.

Music to close the show: "Comptine d'Été No 1" composed by Yann Tiersen, performed by Jeroen Van Veen, from the album Minimal Piano Collection.

See the CBC Books special feature on Anne Tyler.

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