Anne Tyler – French Braid

Anne Tyler – French Braid

It is coincidental encounter at a station: Serena sees a young man and is not sure if he’s her cousin. Her boyfriend cannot believe this, how can she not know her own cousin? Well, family matters have never been easy with the Garretts. Robin and Mercy have married at a young age, their two daughters Alice and Lily could hardly be more different from each other and their son David, a couple of years younger than the girls, even as a boy, was rather withdrawn. As the years pass by, the kids get older and independent, have their own families, make mistakes, Mercy follows her artistic works and drifts apart from Robin. It is only rare events that bring the whole family together for brief moments, but then, they remain on the surface and the important things are left unsaid.

Anne Tyler has been writing books for almost six decades, but I have only come to detect her work a couple of years ago. What I liked from the start was her relaxed tone which takes life just as it is, acknowledging the ups and downs, knowing that the show has to go on. Her latest novel, too, “French Braid” is wonderfully narrated capturing the small but decisive moments. It is the portrait of a family, not the totally average one but nevertheless one that could just live next door to you. Again, Tyler finds the interesting points in those at the first glance totally average lives.

“What’s the name of that braid that starts high up on little girls’ heads?” David asked Greta one night (…) “Oh a French braid,” Greta said. “That’s it. And then when she undid them, her hair would still be in ripples, little leftover squiggles, for hours and hours afterwards. “ “Yes…” “Well,” David said, “That’s how families work, too. You think you’re free of them, but you’re never really free; the ripples are crimped in forever.”

None of the Garretts have ever been close, not even the married couples, but nevertheless, they are family and therefore gather from time to time. They may not even like each other, but they like to stay informed. Some of them try to break out, especially the women, but just like the French braid, they cannot really free themselves, some things just stick.

Anne Tyler surely is a most accomplished writer, how else would it be possible to totally enjoy a novel and at the same time feel a little bit uncomfortable due to the extent you can recognise yourself in her writing. She does not focus on the exceptional, the outstanding, but finds the aspects worth mentioning in the ordinary, in the well-known and hardly ever actually noticed. It is with her soft voice and quite narration that she hints at what you should look at and think about. Another though-provoking, simply marvellous novel.  

Cassandra Parkin – The Leftovers

Cassandra Parkin – The Leftovers

Nurse Callie is giving up her job to be better able to care for her brother. For years now, Noah has been suffering from mental illness and apart from their father, Callie is the only one he trusts and who is able to calm him when he gets in a state of emergency. To have more time, she leaves the hospital and becomes a carer for Frey, a young man who does not talk and needs strict daily routines to cope with life. Thus, Callie spends two weeks with her father and brother and the other two together with a colleague with Frey. When she returns one night from work, she receives an awful message: both her beloved ones have died in an accident and now she has to face her mother again. The woman who left them, who always hated Callie and the single person she does not want to see. It is a confrontation which is not only hurtful but which also lets lose monsters which have been kept locked up for many years.

Cassandra Parkin’s novel is a dark tale which play with the big question if the narrator is reliable or not and if what we remember is actually how things really happened or if our brain might play tricks on us. “The Leftovers” is great in making you high alert for the half-sentences, the things implied, all that is not said and questions all characters. Whom can you trust? Who is willingly misleading? Who is misled by their brains? From a point where all is clear, you enter an abyss where everything is possible.

Callie appears to be a selfless young woman who has destined her life to care for others. She is great with Frey as she has a long history of living with her brother and noticing nuances, slight changes which might be signs for dramatic events. She can well adapt to Frey’s needs and sync herself with his life which makes her perfect for the job. Yet, after some time, things slightly change and it takes some time for the reader to figure out why that is.

In the confrontation with her cool and repellent mother, childhood memories come up. Not only did her mother not show any affection towards her and clearly preferred her brother, she definitely neglected the girl. In Callie’s recollections, it all makes sense and fits together perfectly, yet, the more you get to know, the more you start to wonder if she, too, might see things that are not there just like her brother. Even though from what she tells, it all seems right and yet, doesn’t the understanding from the world of somebody suffering from paranoia normally form a consistent picture?

A great read I can only recommend but you should be aware that some contents might feel like triggers for a highly sensitive reader.