Book excerpt: “French Braid” by Anne Tyler

One of America’s most beloved authors, Anne Tyler, whose works include “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” “The Accidental Tourist,” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Breathing Lessons,” returns with a new novel about a Baltimore family spanning several decades .

“French Braid” tells the story of the Garrett family, stretching from their first-ever (and last) vacation together in the 1950s, to the COVID present.

Read an exception below.


Knopf


The Garrett family did not take a family vacation until 1959. Robin Garrett, Alice’s father, said they couldn’t afford one. Also, in the early days he refused to leave the store in anyone else’s hands. It was Grandfather Wellington’s store, was why—Wellington’s Plumbing Supply, turned over to Robin’s care only grudgingly and mistrustfully after Grandfather Wellington had his first heart attack. So of course Robin had to prove himself, working six days a week and bringing the books home every Saturday for Alice’s mother to examine in case he’d slipped up somewhere. Face it: he was not a born businessman. By training he was a plumber; he used to buy his parts of him at Wellington’s just so he could catch a glimpse of young Mercy Wellington behind the counter. Mercy Wellington was the prettiest little thing he’d ever laid eyes on, he told his children de ella, and all the plumbers in Baltimore were crazy about her. Robin hadn’t stood a chance. But miracles do happen, sometimes. Mercy told the children she’d liked her gentlemanly behavior.

Then after Grandfather Wellington died and the store became Robin’s—or really Mercy’s, legally speaking; same thing—he had acted even more tied to it, more obliged to oversee every last nut and bolt of it, and so they still took no vacations. Not till he hired an assistant manager whom he referred to as “young Pickford,” a good-natured sort without a lot of brains but steady as a rock. That was when Mercy said, “All right, Robin, now I’m putting my foot down. We are going on a family vacation.”

Summer of 1959. A week at Deep Creek Lake. Rustic little cabin in a row of other cabins just a walk from the lake itself. Not actually on the waterfront, because Robin said that it was too pricey, but close enough; close enough.

In 1959 Alice was seventeen years old—way past the stage where traveling with her family could be any kind of thrill. And her sister, Lily, was fifteen and madly in love with Jump Watkins, a rising senior at their high school and a champion basketball player. She could not possibly leave Jump for a whole week, she said. She asked if Jump could come to the lake with them, but Robin said no. He didn’t even bother giving a reason; he just said, “What? No,” and that was that.

So for the girls, the trip was nothing much to look forward to. It had arrived too late in their lives. For their brother, though… well, David was only seven, the absolutely perfect age for a week at a lake. He was a joyful child anyhow, delighted to take part in anything new and different. From the moment he heard they were going, he started counting the days on the calendar and planning what to bring with him. He must have envisioned the lake as a sort of oversized bathtub, because he proposed to pack his plastic tugboats, his wooden sailboat, and his little wind-up plastic diver. Mercy had to explain that they might float away from him in all that water. “I’ll get you a beach bucket at the dime store instead,” she promised, “and a shovel.”


Extracted from “French Braid” by Anne Tyler. Copyright © 2022 by Anne Tyler. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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