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Short takes: Book reviews, in brief

Fiction

A Spool of Blue Thread

Anne Tyler, Alfred A. Knopf, 370 pages

“A Spool of Blue Thread,” Anne Tyler’s 20th novel, is a tender, touching and funny story about three generations of an ordinary American family who are, of course, anything but. At the center of the novel are Abby and Red Whitshank and their four adult children. Abby was a stay-at-home mom turned social worker, Red a building contractor.

Abby and Red are in their 70s, and Abby has begun “disappearing,” both physically and mentally, while Red, who is hard of hearing, struggles to recover from a heart attack. For the first time, their beloved house is shows signs of neglect, and Denny, the third-born and now in his late 30s, is still adrift. His estrangement is one of the domestic mysteries that animates the novel. A problem child who grew into a troubled adult, he picks up and discards identities like a restless kid in a Halloween shop. Even he is at a loss to understand the source of his misery.

Abby is the novel’s most commanding presence. Tyler’s depiction of the thought processes of an elderly demented person – “a gear sort of slips in your head,” Abby thinks – is poetic and deeply moving.

Tyler’s accomplishment in this understated masterpiece is to convince us not only that the Whitshanks are remarkable but also that every family – no matter how seemingly ordinary – is in its own way special.

Associated Press

Shark Skin Suite

Tim Dorsey, Morrow, 336 pages

Serge A. Storm – the antihero of Tim Dorsey’s series – is a one-man encyclopedia on Florida. And woe to anyone who disrespects the Sunshine State; Serge is more than willing to turn violent on such people.

“Shark Skin Suite,” Dorsey’s 18th novel about Serge, finds the killer in love with young lawyer Brooke Campanella, an expert on foreclosure law. So Serge decides that he, too, will practice law, or what constitutes law in his mad-man mind. And, no, he doesn’t have a law degree, nor does he plan to get one. Details. Details. Instead, Serge uses for his law education the locations of movies filmed in Florida that dealt with the law. So he’s off to visit the sites of “Body Heat,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Absence of Malice” and others. And in the courtroom, he cites the law cases mentioned in these films.

The “Shark Skin Suite” plot is small and could have easily been trimmed by about 50 pages. As in his other novels in this series, this is a jaunt around every part of Florida, showing the hidden spots and the events that have earned the Sunshine State the “only in Florida” reference.

Sun Sentinel

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