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The Knitting Circleby Ann Hood
Synopses & Reviews
In the spirit of How to Make an American Quilt and The Joy Luck Club, a novel about friendship and redemption.
After the sudden loss of her only child, Stella, Mary Baxter joins a knitting circle in Providence, Rhode Island, as a way to fill the empty hours and lonely days, not knowing that it will change her life. Alice, Scarlet, Lulu, Beth, Harriet, and Ellen welcome Mary into their circle despite her reluctance to open her heart to them. Each woman teaches Mary a new knitting technique, and, as they do, they reveal to her their own personal stories of loss, love, and hope. Eventually, through the hours they spend knitting and talking together, Mary is finally able to tell her own story of grief, and in so doing reclaims her love for her husband, faces the hard truths about her relationship with her mother, and finds the spark of life again. By an "engrossing storyteller," this new novel once again "works its magic" (Sue Monk Kidd).
"While mourning the death of her daughter, Hood (An Ornithologist's Guide to Life) learned to knit. In her comeback novel, Mary Baxter, living in Hood's own Providence, R.I., loses her five-year-old daughter to meningitis. Mary and her husband, Dylan, struggle to preserve their marriage, but the memories are too painful, and the healing too difficult. Mary can't focus on her job as a writer for a local newspaper, and she bitterly resents her emotionally and geographically distant mother, who relocated to Mexico years earlier. Still, it's at her mother's urging that Mary joins a knitting circle and discovers that knitting soothes without distracting. The structure of the story quickly becomes obvious: each knitter has a tragedy that she'll reveal to Mary, and if there's pleasure to be had in reading a novel about grief, it's in guessing what each woman's misfortune is and in what order it will be exposed. The strength of the writing is in the painfully realistic portrayal of the stages of mourning, and though there's a lot of knitting, both actual and metaphorical, the terminology's simple enough for nonknitters to follow and doesn't distract from the quick pace of the narrative." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Mary showed up empty-handed,' begins Ann Hood's sad and intimate new novel, 'The Knitting Circle.' Mary has lost her only child, 5-year-old Stella, and when Hood says Mary is empty-handed, she means it not only literally but metaphorically, too, of course. Here is a woman who believes she has lost everything. Mary 'opened her arms to indicate their emptiness,' Hood writes, and seeing that invisible... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) space reminds us of just how big emptiness can be. For Mary, solace comes in finding a way to pass the moments without succumbing to grief's long-armed embrace: She learns to knit. Hood took a risk with this novel of a grieving mother who finds her way back to the world by knitting. Both grief and knitting have an inherent stasis to them, a sort of anti-momentum — like watching the hands of a clock move round the hours — that seems at first at cross-purposes to the requirements of fiction. With grief, the bad thing has already happened, after all. Yet closely observed sadness reveals its own drama, the sufferer engaged mano a mano with despair. In one lovely, painful scene early in the novel, Mary walks into a supermarket and sees 'the season's first Seckel pears, tiny and amber. Stella's favorites.' The innocent appearance of these pears is the sort of opportunity that Hood takes advantage of. 'Mary felt the panic rising in her and she turned and walked out quickly, leaving her basket with the bananas and grated Parmesan behind. In the car, after she had cried good and hard, she picked up her knitting and did one full row right there in the parking lot before she drove home.' Hood wisely makes this portrait of Mary stumbling her way through the year after her only child's death a collision course in which disaster lurks around every bend: Mary's still-young marriage to Dylan falters and lurches off course. Her career is stalled mid-flight. Her painfully unresolved relationship with her mother seems destined not to be resolved. But prodded by her mother, who has her own mysterious stake in Mary's healing, Mary makes her first reluctant visit to Big Alice's Sit and Knit, the local knitting shop. 'There's something about knitting,' her mother says. 'You have to concentrate, but not really. Your hands keep moving and moving and somehow it calms your brain.' Big Alice herself, a diminutive woman in a tweed skirt and pearls, introduces Mary to the circle of knitters who gather on Tuesday nights and whose stories, like Mary's own, ebb and flow beneath the busy click of their knitting needles. Knitting becomes a palliative for Mary as the miserable days stretch out ahead of her, one stitch at a time, one foot before the other, and the stories of the other knitters give the novel a parallel force to Mary's struggle for survival. Hood manages this large cast of characters well; their stories are distinct enough to avoid merging into an undifferentiated river of woe. As Mary comes to know each member of the knitting circle, she is forced to consider sadness other than her own — for each woman has her own tale of love and loss — and gradually she moves from the terrified periphery of the stricken bystander to the heart of others' lives. This is Mary's salvation. 'The Knitting Circle' was written after Hood's own tragic loss, the death of her young daughter, and it is not hard to imagine the ways in which writing this novel must have been both painful and therapeutic. It is a wondrously simple book about something complicated: the nearly unendurable process of enduring after a great loss. The novel, like knitting, seems to make itself up as it goes along, the threads bound and gathered into a whole. In the end, there is something where there once was nothing: a scarf, a pair of socks, solace where there once was pain. Little by little, by knit and by purl, Mary's empty hands are once again full. Carrie Brown's new novel, 'The Rope Walk,' will be published in May." Reviewed by Carrie Brown, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Hood's latest novel is definitely gloomy, but the beautiful language and convincing characters make it a worthwhile read." Library Journal
About the Author
Ann Hood is the author of seven novels and a short-story collection, An Ornithologist's Guide to Life. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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