‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’
This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that summer’s day in 1959. The whole family on the porch, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.
From that porch we spool back through the generations, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define the family. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century – four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their home…
I have always loved Anne Tyler’s writing. She creates depths to her characters that other authors can only dream of. Her stories tend to be of families; their ups and downs, the good times, the seemingly mundane and the crises and tragedies. How you can live with people and never really know them
In this book we meet the Whitshanks. Red and Abby and their four children: Denny, Stem, Jeannie and Amanda.They live in a wonderful house that was built by Red’s father, Junior, and it is almost a character in itself. The stories passed down through the family tend to have the house at their heart. It is symbolic of the social and financial success of Junior and Red Whitshank.
Red and Abby are now alone. Their children have all moved out and, all except Denny, are settled with families of their own. Denny is the black sheep, the one that no-one can quite understand. In and out of jobs all the time and his private life is just that: much to the vexation of Abby. He has caused Abby and Red the most trouble of all their kids and everyone treads on eggshells when he’s around for fear of upsetting him. Red made an off-the-cuff remark to him about his not having any work and Denny left and was not heard of for three years. His parents (and his siblings) can’t decide whether to be furious with him or worried out of their minds.
As health issues start to affect Red and Abby, their children rally round, Stem and his wife and children move back home and more surprisingly so does Denny. But this just serves to unearth secrets and lies and deceptions.
The narrative is not a linear one. It starts in the 21st century, but then moves back to when Abby fell in love with Red, then further back to Red’s parents; Junior and Linnie Mae. This was the favourite part of the book for me. The characterisation of Junior and Linnie Mae is utterly brilliant. Whatever your initial feelings about the two; Anne Tyler manages to draw you into their world and show you that things are not always as straightforward as they seem. Utter genius.
It has been said that this may be the last book that Anne Tyler will write. I sincerely hope not.