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Likely Stories -- French Braid by Anne Tyler

A Wonderful family with lots of love and heartbreak

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the author of more than twenty novels. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland. French Braid is another of her novels, all of which are closest to my heart.

French Braid is a family story. To begin, “The Garrett family did not take a family vacation until 1959. Robbin Garrett, Alice’s father, says they couldn’t afford one. Also, in the early days he refused to leave the store in anyone else’s hands. It was Grandfather Wellington’s store, was why—Wellington Plumbing Supply, turned over to Robin’s care only grudging and mistrustfully after Grandfather Wellington had his first heart attack. So of course, Robin had to prove himself, working six days a week and bringing the books home every Saturday for Alice’s mother to examine in case he’d slipped up somewhere. Face it: he was not a born businessman” (23).

The family consisted of Robin, his wife Mercy, and two children, Allice was a devoted mother, and David, rather peculiar child, did well—all things considered. To continue: “On the morning of September sixth, nineteen-seventy—a Sunday, clear and cool but nowhere near fail-like yet—Robin and Mercy Garrett drove their son, David, to Islington, Pennsylvania, to start his freshman year at Islington College. They settled him in his room, they introduced themselves to his roommate (a nice enough boy, by the looks of him, though not half as nice as her boy, (Mercy felt), and they said their goodbyes and left. //

For most of the drive home, they were quiet. Occasionally they would say things like ‘Those walls could have used a coat of paint, in my opinion’ (this from Robin) and ‘I wonder if David will remember a single word of my laundry instructions’ (from Mercy). But generally, they stayed sunk in that sort of silence that radiates unspoken thoughts—complicated, conflicting thoughts cluttered the air inside the car” (61).

“On Monday morning, as soon as Robin left for work, Mercy went to her closet and retrieved a flattened Sunkist carton she’d pick up at the supermarket. She opened it out, reinforced the bottoms with packing tape, and started filling it with clothes” (62). “On Pert Road, she took a right at the third house from the corner—a white clapboard house with a patchy little front lawn—and followed a worn path around back to the garage. A fragile-looking wooden staircase ran up one side. She climbed it and unlocked the door to her studio. // It wasn’t the sort of studio originally meant to be lived in. At some point someone must have fixed it up for a teenage son itching to leave home, or a husband longing for a den. […]

The French Braid by Anne Tyler is a pleasant family—up to a point. But there is a lot of love in that household. 10 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happing reading!