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French braid : a novel
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Library Journal Review
Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Breathing Lessons and the recent Man Booker Prize finalist Redhead by the Side of the Road, Tyler has always had a way with families. Her protagonists here are the Garretts, who don't necessarily seem that close. Mercy is more invested in creating artwork than tending to husband Robin or their three children--dependable Alice, wild-eyed Lily, and the youngest, David, who appears more than a little eager to forge his own way far from the homestead. In fact, the Garretts have only taken one vacation together, way back in 1959. Yet they clearly influence one another powerfully over the decades depicted here.
Publishers Weekly Review
Tyler (Redhead by the Side of the Road) returns with a dry and well-crafted look at a family that inexplicably comes apart over several decades. Serena Drew, a 20-something Baltimore grad student traveling with her boyfriend, James, thinks she recognizes her cousin, Nicholas Garrett, in the crowd at a Philadelphia train station in 2010, but she can't say for sure because she hasn't seen him for years. "You guys give a whole new meaning to the phrase 'once removed,' " James says, and wonders if "some deep dark secret" might explain why Serena rarely sees her aunt Alice or her uncle David, Nicholas's father. But the explanation, as it happens, is not so simple. This also turns out not to be Serena's story, as Tyler leaves the young couple for late 1950s Baltimore, where Alice; Serena's mother, Lily; and David are raised by their mismatched parents, a socially awkward plumber named Robin and begrudging housewife Mercy, who wants to be an artist. Once the parents become empty nesters, Mercy spends most of her days and nights in her neighboring studio. There are no big reveals, but 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. (Mar.)
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