It has been a while since I read anything by Anne Tyler – 14 years since I read Digging To America, it turns out – but when I was briefly in the library getting a book for my son the day before leaving for vacation, I saw French Braid on the New Releases shelf. I impulsively grabbed it and added it to the vacation TBR pile, and picked it up for my second read on the trip. And I am so glad I did. It is now one of my five star reads for 2022.
Why I picked it up: You know what you’re going to get in an Anne Tyler novel, and sometimes that’s what you’re in the mood for!
Like so many Tyler novels, French Braid is about a family in Baltimore: the Garretts, which consists of Mercy and Robin and their three children, Alice, Lily and David. The book follows this family over the course of about 60 years, as the kids grow up and start their own families, and so on. That’s pretty much it – no dramatic plot twists, no big moments of reveal. But that’s what Tyler is so good at – the minutiae of life, the small moments that somehow are more memorable than the big ones. She’s an expert at exploring family dynamics, relationships, parenthood, and the need to forge one’s own identity. She always has great empathy for her characters, and your heart kind of breaks for each of them at some point as you read French Braid. It’s a poignant and wistful read, beautifully observed and expertly paced.
If you like family dramas and don’t need a lot of action, I’d definitely recommend French Braid, It reminded me of Chorus by Rebecca Kaufman, another 5-star read from earlier this year.
Two small warnings: the first chapter is a little confusing – just roll with it and don’t worry about it – and there is a very small subplot which involves an animal whose well-being is at risk (it doesn’t die). That little plot point made me sad.
French Braid was the 39th book of 2022.