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.
Our story begins in 2010 as a couple starts a train journey from Philadelphia back to Baltimore. Serena Drew is having mixed feelings about her boyfriend at this point. French Braid takes us from this journey to many others, and we follow individual members of this family over the years. From 2010, we jump back to the late 1950s and a week-long family vacation, in which we meet several characters and get to know them a little.
I liked learning about the family members, many of whom were quirky, while others were ordinary. Ordinary moments in a family life illustrate how much families are alike at the core. I liked this description of the book title’s significance stemming from a discussion between David and his wife where he explains that families are like French braids. When you undo the braids, the hair is still in ripples, leftover squiggles, like families are. You’re never really free of them; the ripples are crimped in forever.
The tale unfolds until the year 2020 and how the Pandemic changes their family, even as they still hold onto each other and memories of life before. And the ripples are crimped in forever. 5 stars.