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more different from each other and their son David, a couple of years younger than the girls, even as a boy, was rather withdrawn.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.