Review: French Braid by Anne Tyler

Review by Sue Domis

Anne Tyler has just written her 24th novel.  Each of  her books are about families in Baltimore and each story is different, because each family is separate.  Tyler remains popular after all these years because each novel is unique and each is a new adventure in reading.  We, the readers, can never predict what will happen.

French Braid, Tyler's latest novel is about the Garrett family.  The mother, Mercy, is an aspiring artist. The  father, Robin, runs the family plumbing supply store.  In the course of  the story we meet the three Garrett children; Alice, Lily and David and watch them mature and eventually become parents themselves.    Near the start of the book, the Garretts take their first and only family vacation.  This vacation demonstrates the family dynamics and  shows us each member's personalities.  Their trip is to a lake. At the lake, Mercy swims briefly and then returns to their cabin to paint.  Robin stays at the water's edge, visiting with another vacationing father.  Alice swims a while and then unpacks their things and starts fixing a meal. Lily, who  is a young teen, meets a teen-aged boy and spends most of the week hanging out with him and his friends.  David, the youngest child is fearful and afraid of the water.  He refuses to let his father teach him to swim.  He spends the trip by himself, playing with the sand at the water's edge.   They are all separate, while being together.

Because Mercy wants to paint , she convinces Robin to rent a nearby shed that she can turn into her studio.  In her studio, Mercy paints what she calls "house" paintings.  These are very abstract paintings of a house detailing only one item in the painting, like a door knob, or a planted pot, etc.  She sells only a few of these over the years.  She eventually spends so much time in her studio that she is only staying a few nights a week at home with Robin.  He is hurt, but tries to keep it secret from their now grown kids.  Of course, the kids know.  By now, the children have married and have homes of their own.  Lily marries twice, and Alice once.  They each name a baby Robin, after their Dad.  They are called Robin-the-boy and Robin-the-girl.  David becomes a teacher and marries the school nurse.

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Robin plans a family party.  He has to trick Mercy into attending.  She had even forgotten that it was a special date.  This reader was surprised when Robin's party was a success.

 Anne Tyler has a delightfully quiet sense of humor and it is evident in French Braid.

Thie book is a study in how a family can remain a family even though over the generations it is filled with distances, secrets, and silences.  The book ends with a statement from David's wife, "So this is how it works, this is what families do for each other-- hide a few uncomfortable truths, allow a few self deceptions, little kindnesses".

Once again, Anne Tyler has shown us  the life of a family. This family's story begins in the 1950's and goes up  to the present date.  And, once again, she has not disappointed the reader.   We can only wait and look forward to her next book in a few years.