French Braid


Anne Tyler is one of the most reliable authors I know -- I can pick up one of her novels with complete confidence that I'm in safe hands and that I will enjoy the ride. In French Braid, Tyler returns to familiar territory: an inter-generational family story set in the suburbs of Baltimore. 

The novel opens in 2010, with an encounter at a train station between two cousins who haven't seen each other for a long time, setting up the slight mystery of why the members of this family don't stay in touch. (It says a lot for Tyler's powers that she can turn such a relatively (ha!) low stakes mystery into an utterly absorbing story.)

The following chapters swoop back and forward in time, from a rare family holiday by the lake in 1959 to Covid lockdowns in 2020, each chapter focused on a different member of the family and illuminating from a different angle the weird silences that lie between them. Mercy, the mother, has moved out of the family home, but it's never spoken about. David, the son, never comes home and leaves it to his new wife to announce their marriage. Candle, a grand-daughter, accompanies Mercy on a fateful trip to New York. But it's not until the very end of the novel that we discover the source of this peculiar, decades-long tension, and even then we're left unsure whether it was all a tragic misunderstanding.

I just love Anne Tyler, opening one of her novels is like slipping into a warm bath. In the past I have succumbed to the temptation to read too many in a row, and after about five books the charm began to wear thin (maybe the bath water grew cool, to stretch the metaphor). But as a treat, once in a while, there is nothing more enjoyable. Is there anyone better at capturing the unspoken undercurrents of family dialogues -- the meaning glances, the raised eyebrow, the forced cheer, the humour? Anne Tyler is a master.


  1. Well, this is spooky, Kate! I borrowed French Braid from the library on Friday...

  2. Ooh, that is spooky! I didn't even intend to borrow it, but it was on display when I ducked in to pick up one of my (many) reserves and I grabbed it on impulse. The universe works in mysterious ways!