French Braid: Book summary and reviews of French Braid by Anne Tyler

French Braid

A novel

by Anne Tyler

French Braid by Anne Tyler X
French Braid by Anne Tyler
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About this book

Book Summary

From the beloved best-selling, Pulitzer Prize–winning author - a funny, joyful, brilliantly perceptive journey deep into one Baltimore family's foibles, from a boyfriend with a red Chevy in the 1950s up to a longed-for reunion with a grandchild in our pandemic present.

The Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959. They hardly ever leave home, but in some ways they have never been farther apart. Mercy has trouble resisting the siren call of her aspirations to be a painter, which means less time keeping house for her husband, Robin. Their teenage daughters, steady Alice and boy-crazy Lily, could not have less in common. Their youngest, David, is already intent on escaping his family's orbit, for reasons none of them understand. Yet, as these lives advance across decades, the Garretts' influences on one another ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation.

Full of heartbreak and hilarity, French Braid is classic Anne Tyler: a stirring, uncannily insightful novel of tremendous warmth and humor that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close—yet how unknowable—every family is to itself.

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Media Reviews

"Anne Tyler's French Braid is entirely familiar, and that's just perfect... Late in the novel, David's wife reminds him: "This is what families do for each other — hide a few uncomfortable truths, allow a few self-deceptions. Little kindnesses." "And little cruelties," David adds. Who captures that poignant paradox so well as Anne Tyler, our patron saint of the unremarked outlandishness of ordinary life?" - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"French Braid is a novel about what is remembered, what we're left with when all the choices have been made, the children raised, the dreams realized or abandoned. It is a moving meditation on the passage of time...For all its charm, it is a quietly subversive novel, tackling fundamental assumptions about womanhood, motherhood and female aging." - Jennifer Haigh, New York Times

"[A]ny Tyler book is a gift. Funny, poignant, generous, not shying away from death and disappointment but never doomy or overwrought, it suggests there's always new light to be shed, whatever the situation, with just another turn of the prism." - Anthony Cummins, The Guardian

"Lushly imagined, psychologically intricate, virtually inhalable...At every leap, Tyler balances gracefully between tenderness and piquant humor, her insights into human nature luminous. Tyler is a phenomenon, each of her novels feels fresh and incisive, and this charming family tale will be honey for her fans." - Booklist (starred review)

"Tyler returns with a dry and well-crafted look at a family that inexplicably comes apart over several decades...Tyler's focus on character development proves fruitful; a reunion organized by the wistful Robin in the '90s is particularly affecting, as is a coda with David during the Covid-19 pandemic. As always, Tyler offers both comfort and surprise." - Publishers Weekly

"Tyler draws her characters and their interactions in such specific and revealing detail...More lovely work from Tyler, still vital and creative at 80." - Kirkus Review

This information about French Braid was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Brilliantly written family portrait
Thanks to NetGalley & Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for a digital advance reader's copy. All comments and opinions are my own.

I couldn't wait for this latest title of Anne Tyler's. I've read and enjoyed almost all of her books, and this one was just as wonderful as the others. As usual, it's about a family - starting in 1959 when the Garretts take a family vacation and continuing to the present. Parents, children, grandchildren. There are many characters, but I didn't have trouble keeping track of them as the names and personalities were distinct and memorable. Once more, Tyler writes expertly of family relationships - children and their parents, and those children grow up to become parents themselves and then grandparents. For instance, it was sweet to read about David as a grandfather, and remember when he had been first a child with his toys and songs, then a college student bringing home a girlfriend, and then also as a parent. When his son Nicholas and young grandson Benny return home during the pandemic, I marveled along with David at how Benny was so similar to the young David.

But don't expect this to be an overwrought, epic, multi-generational saga. This 256-page novel features only the significant conversations, actions, and thoughts of the various characters. Yet when I finished reading it I felt that I knew exactly what Tyler was trying to convey, as Greta explains, "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...and little cruelties."

No one can write about family dynamics like Tyler. How people really interact with each other. What they think, what they say, and actually do. As one character notes, "Oh, the lengths this family would go to so as not to spoil the picture of how things were supposed to be!"

Some people complain that Tyler's books don't have a plot, but they're missing the point of her brilliant writing. "French Braid," like her other novels, is a family portrait containing insightful observations, portraying their relationships with each other, the love and the irritations, the miscommunications and misunderstandings. And it's Tyler's observations, descriptions, and what she chooses to focus on that make this another amazing book that I highly recommend.

Cloggie Downunder

Wonderful, as always!
“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. And little cruelties.”

French Braid is the twenty-fourth novel by best-selling, award-winning American author, Anne Tyler. The Garrett family, people would tell you, is fairly unremarkable. They’re living what they see as fairly unremarkable lives Baltimore. Yes, there are little quirks, minor grudges, small resentments, as in every family. But also love in its many manifestations.

To pique our initial interest, there’s Serena Drew, meeting her (newish) boyfriend’s Philadelphia parents. A chance encounter, on the journey home to Baltimore, with her cousin, draws attention to the fact that the Garretts don’t see each other very much, unlike the boyfriend’s sprawling family. To understand why, we need to go back to the late 1950s.

The Garret family on their one and only vacation, at Deep Creek Lake: Robin demonstrates his inexperience with relaxing; Mercy gets out her sketchbook and pencils and indulges in her art; seventeen-year-old Alice takes over the responsibility of feeding the family and watching over her siblings; at fifteen, Lily is quickly distracted from her sulk about leaving one boy behind by the attentions of another, older one, from whom she seems to expect a proposal; and David, to his father’s frustration, is uninterested in the water, or learning to swim.

It is always such a pleasure to read a book by Anne Tyler, and this one has you chickling all the way through, unless you are laughing out loud or saying “oh, dear” or “oh, my”, and once or twice, choking up or shedding a tear. Nothing terribly dramatic happens: readers wanting action and excitement need to look elsewhere; but Tyler’s special talent is making ordinary lives shine.

Tyler is wonderful at character description: “It always puzzled Alice, how boys would flock to Lily. Oh, she was pretty enough, in a round-faced, dimply sort of way, but that didn't explain why they grew so alert when she walked into a room. It seemed she gave off some kind of high-pitched signal that only male ears could detect. (Grown men as well as boys. Alice had noticed more than one friend's father sending Lily the same sharp arrows of awareness.)”

As always, many of her characters are a little eccentric, but their observations on life are insightful at the same time as being amusing. Serena illustrates “I can criticise my family, but you can’t”; Mercy tells her granddaughter “Sometimes people live first one life and then another life... First a family life and then later a whole other kind of life. That's what I'm doing” but she does it subtly to spare feelings from being hurt; Alice considers herself the sensible one, even if some see her as a killjoy.

Each of eight chapters is from the perspective of a different family member, giving their particular view of certain events or circumstances. If Lily’s husband sees the Garretts as narrow and unfriendly and judgemental, it’s not how they see themselves.

And Tyler’s prose is a joy: “The only sounds in the studio were the whiskery strokes of their two brushes. She'd grown used to hearing old-people music but evidently Mercy preferred to work in silence, and Candle saw her point. Silence made what she was doing seem more important, somehow - more purposeful, almost like praying.” Wonderful, as always!


Good afternoon's read
I'm not sure why, but this was my first Anne Tyler. I was pleasantly surprised and will be looking for more.


shattering examination of a family
French Braid."That's it. And then when she undid them,(her braids) her hair would still be in ripples, little leftover squiggles, for hours and hours afterward."
"Well," David said, "that's how families work, too. You think you are free of them, but you're never REALLY free; the ripples are crimped in forever."
What a perfect metaphor for a family that specializes in distance from one another, secrets of their lives untold, where communication is stifled, even as their lives are enter-twined or braided with one another.
To be transparent, I kept getting knots in my stomach reading this novel as I identified my own family with its secrets, aloofness and silence. This story begins in 1959,a time when housewives generally acted like "Leave it to Beaver" and expressing their secret desires was not the norm. After several decades(60 years) we see the evolution of this family from grandparents, children and grandchildren. Though the family was cracked and detached from one another, love was expressed in small intricate waves. An insecure father, married to a woman who secretly wanted to be an artist, a daughter who was prim and proper, another one wild and contrary, and the unknowable son who distanced himself from the family. After the kids move out, the wife subtlely ships her items to a rented studio proceeding daily to set it up, bringing her clothes, beginning to spend nights there until she moves out completely while her husband refuses to acknowledge the truth. And..typical in this family, the truth is never spoken out loud to the children. The children have their own clandestine adventures in this character driven novel expressed by the minutiae of families every day lives. However, one gets to witness the unraveling which I found sad but not bleak, with the ending showing there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Although this was not my favorite of Anne Tyler's books, Tyler fans will not be disappointed. Themes are consistent with many of her other novels and you know she will pilot you safely forward.

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Author Information

Anne Tyler Author Biography

Photo: Diana Walker

Anne Tyler's 50 Year Writing Career

In March 2013, Anne Tyler announced the title of her upcoming novel in an interview with the BBC. She also noted that she didn't want to finish another novel - not even this one. She described the book as a "sprawling family saga," which starts with the present generation and then moves back, one generation at a time. Fortunately, she realized she was only interested in three generations. Before this revelation, she figured A Spool of Blue Thread could go on long enough that she might die before its publication! That way she wouldn't have the hassle of the editing, polishing, promoting and worrying if the book was any good or not.

This sounds like the pressure of thinking up something new and original, combined with her obvious penchant for ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview

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