French Braid; Anne Tyler
Knopf 3/22/2022 and Random House Audio
(9+ hours - narrated by Kimberly Farr (very good)
"Nobody outside a marriage has any real notion of what goes on inside."
It's 1959 and time to meet the all American family - The Garretts - Mercy and Robin (mother and father) and their (3) children: Alice and Lily are teens and David is the youngest child. Father, Robin is running the family hardware store in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Robin is sort of removed from the daily life of his children. The mother, Mercy, tends to the needs of her children but, she is far from a warm and comforting sort of mother. She is unfulfilled with her life, her marriage and, her real passion seems to be her art. The children: Alice is responsible and the one who likes to follow the rules, Lily is perhaps too boy crazy for her own good and young David seems confused; he longs to be grown up yet still very much a child who needs reassurance.
As the story begins in 1959, Robin decides that the family should take a vacation. It will be their first and last vacation as a family. We follow the Garrett family from 1959 through the present day. This is an expansive yet quiet, poignant, reflective kind of story about family. There are special moments to be shared but, also there is that secret desire to break free from the family.
I thought the Garrett family felt cold, there was not a lot of emotion but, in reality that is just how some families are. There was one particular scene on a train involving the grandmother and her granddaughter which will forever be etched in my mind when I think about this book. In some ways the mother, Mercy reminded me of Delia in Ladder of the Years, a book I finally read a few months ago and loved - she too was an unfulfilled mother needing something more than what her marriage and children provided.
If you are wondering about the significance of the title French Braid it is this - when a hair braid is undone crimps and crinkles remain -- "that's how families work too. You think you're free of them but, you're never really free! The ripples are crimped forever." Not my favorite Anne Tyler novel but, I'm certainly happy I experienced it. No one writes about family like Anne Tyler, an author who is not afraid to show us human frailties in her flawed characters.
Thanks go to Knopf Publishing and Random House Audio for allowing me access to the eGalley as well as the audio download in exchange for my unbiased review.
Rating - 4.5/5 stars