For Tyler fans, this is familiar territory: the quotidian frictions and rewards of family life in white, middle-class Baltimore. But while her earlier novels were heavy on domestic details, vividly evoking the texture of daily life, French Braid is less fully imagined, the characters less developed. There are simply too many years to cover, too many children and grandchildren to keep track of. The younger Garretts are drawn haphazardly, or not at all. Five decades into her career, one gets the sense that Tyler is no longer quite so interested in the details. Instead, French Braid offers something subtler and finer, the long view on family: what remains years later, when the particulars have been sanded away by time. The tone is wistful, elegiac ... 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 ... French Braid is the opposite of reassuring. The novel is imbued with an old-school feminism of a kind currently unfashionable. It looks squarely at the consequences of stifled female ambition — to the woman herself, and to those in her orbit. For all its charm, French Braid is a quietly subversive novel, tacklinging fundamental assumptions about womanhood, motherhood and female aging ... Tyler takes aim at a sentimental trope deeply embedded in American culture. The feminist movement notwithstanding, popular culture...still clings to the notion of motherhood as the ultimate emotional fulfillment, the great and crowning satisfaction of a woman’s life. For Mercy Garrett, that simply isn’t the case.
Few writers are so widely loved and respected as the creator of 'family novels', a genre Tyler has perfected by bringing her quiet wisdom and gentle prose style to bear on the hidden corners of domestic life. She has strayed into slightly more diverse territory recently, but her fans will be delighted to know that her latest book marks a return to the form of her most popular work ... This is Tyler at her most Tyler-ish: pleasant and inoffensive, yet surprisingly deep and moving. Critics who write her off as folksy might remember that folk tales, with their dark hearts, endure longer and cut deeper than more sophisticated forms. So will the work of this beloved teller of secret, ordinary truths.
The story offers such a complete checklist of the author’s usual motifs and themes that it could serve as the Guidebook to Anne Tyler in the Wild. The insular Baltimore family, the quirky occupations, the special foods — they all move across these pages as predictably as the phases of the moon ... There are times when such familiarity might feel tiresome. But we’re not in one of those times. Indeed, given today’s slate of horror and chaos, the rich melody of French Braid offers the comfort of a beloved hymn. It doesn’t even matter if you believe in the sanctity of family life; the sound alone brings solace ... With exquisite subtlety, this early chapter lays down the psychological trajectories of several storylines that develop throughout French Braid. It’s also a reminder that. although Tyler has devoted her life to novels, she commands all the tools of a brilliant short story writer ... Now 80 years old, Tyler can move freely up and down the scale of ages with complete authority, capturing the patient spirit of a retiree, the buoyant expectation of a second-grader or the unstable realm of naivete and dread where teenagers hang out ... Who captures that poignant paradox so well as Anne Tyler, our patron saint of the unremarked outlandishness of ordinary life?