French Cue: An Antidote to Our Clickpet Times from a Major Ordinary Life Historian

It’s not for nothing that Anne Tyler is nicknamed the “American Jane Austen”. His unwavering vision of the average American family is unparalleled, and his detached and adorable style won him the Pulitzer Prize and the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence. Alongside Elizabeth Strout, Raymond Carver and Anne Patchett, Tyler has built a reputation as a passionate historian of the human condition and an assembler of great collections, in stories full of subtle humor and subtle detail.

French braidHis twenty-fourth novel continues this remarkable tradition with a story that has dominated for decades and generations. We meet Serena and James in the present of the pandemic, who meet one of Serena’s cousins, Nicholas, where else? – Baltimore station after visiting his parents. The meeting is, to say the least, impersonal and denotes a strangely closed family. “Your mother…isn’t she?” Suggest Nicholas. “No, Lily,” she replied, to James’ amusement. (For reasons better known to Tyler, these two up-and-coming characters are barely seen for the rest of the book.)

In any case, the reasons for this strange separation between cousins ​​did not take long. In the summer of 1959, Jarrets, a hard worker, went to a house by the lake. It’s their first and last vacation. Robin, the plumber-turned-tradesman whose comfort zone has returned to the family business, is its patriarch. His wife Mercy aspires to paint. Little by little, she surreptitiously moves her works of art into a studio to indulge in a passion that quietly blossoms over time, until Robin doesn’t even notice. Many members of the Garrett family have dreams and hopes that ultimately come to naught thanks to the family.

Alice and Lily are two teenage girls who would rather stay somewhere else than on this vacation, and they have very little in common. David, their younger brother, is already sensitive to the dynamics of his family. On this trip, Robin is determined to make sure David loses his fear of swimming somehow. It is the first of the few difficult life lessons he has so desperately imparted to his only son.

Over time, David will seek his own identity outside of the family he was born into. Garrett’s three children grow up and leave home, have children and grandchildren, marry (in secret, sometimes) and divorce. David, who is training as a teacher, has in fact cut all ties with his family. Now, after his retirement, he finds himself in prison with his five-year-old grandson, Penny, son of Nicholas.

As is often the case, the reader is introduced to a number of characters at a rapid pace through a number of different points of view, but Tyler rarely loses the backbone of the novel: the bonds that strengthen and fade between family members. There are particularly close relationships (between, say, Mercy and her grandson Kendall), some of which have faded and faded over the years (Alice and Lily). Each family member has their own participation in the same events. Like most families, there are no heroes or villains. However, Tyler, now 81, is a dean who has created a sense of grandeur outside of the ordinary, not-so-cool life. Everything happens and nothing happens. In families, there are consequences to the smallest actions and gestures. Much has not been said.


Tyler rarely resorts to drama or spice in an attempt to push the plot forward, and this book is the best for him. Kindness is the thing. In a world where readers are tired of social media clicks and quick reads, Tyler’s pace is becoming more important every year. Each page is imbued with sympathy for its brand. Its unique ear for intimacy and occasionalism means that this relatively slim 244-page book feels more dense and ambitious than its size suggests.

In 2015, Tyler suggested that spool of blue thread, released that year, will be his last novel. There have been four since, and French braid He certainly doesn’t read like the author, he calls him on the phone. Instead, we see Tyler with his full-throttle staring abilities.

In the title, she uses the metaphor of the French braid, a hairstyle that tends to leave waves in the hair even after the braid itself is finished. “That’s how families work too,” says David. “You think you are free from it, but you never are; the ripples are curled forever. »

Today’s video

If anyone knows the frustrations and intricacies of this specific type of binding, and can present it in its classic, charming style, it’s Tyler.

Fantasy: French Braid composed by Ann Tyler
Chatto & Windus, 244 pages, hardcover €23.79; E-book €9.99


French braid by Ann Tyler

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French Cue: An Antidote to Our Clickpet Times from a Major Ordinary Life Historian