@review ANITA PADDOCK
The Knitting Circle
By Ann Hood
You don’t have to knit to love this book. What you do need is an appreciation for an honest and emotional story told by an exceptionally talented writer, Ann Hood. This novel takes place in Providence, Rhode Island, and mirrors the personal life of the author who also lost a daughter and joined a knitting club.
Mary Baxter is the mother of Stella, her only child, who died suddenly of meningitis. She and her husband are anguished souls whose grief is so debilitating that they are unable to comfort each other. An attorney, he goes to work each day and is able to function. Mary is not. She’s a wreck. She’s unable to write or read, the activities she’s done for a living, as well as for pleasure. She’s angry at everyone, especially mothers who still have their little girls to take to school, bake cookies for, take to the park to swing.
Her mother suggests she learns how to knit, a suggestion she dismisses at first.
Mary eventually takes her mother’s suggestion, something she rarely does. Mary’s beautiful mother was an alcoholic while Mary was growing up, and she’s never really forgiven her, even though her mother is now sober and living in Mexico. She has never been someone Mary could count on. Her mother didn’t even come to her own granddaughter’s funeral.
Mary drives forty miles to Big Alice’s Sit and Knit. She doesn’t want to take a chance that someone might know her and ask how she’s doing. Alice ushers her into the back room and promises her she can learn to knit. Mary chooses a blue yarn, the color of her daughter’s eyes, and Alice casts on the first series of loops and twists before handing the smooth needles to Mary.
Mary takes her knitting home and shows it off to her husband, Dylan, who obsessively watches CNN when he’s home. With the light of the television flickering shadows across their bed, Mary decides she’ll join the knitting circle that meets every Wednesday night.
Mary is welcomed by the other knitters, and soon she recognizes the therapeutic qualities of focusing on knitting, rather than her devastating loss. As she slowly learns to knit, she also learns that each woman in the circle has her own personal grief. Beth has cancer, Ellen has a daughter waiting for a heart transplant, Scarlett unknowingly let a child drown, Harriet and Alice are old and alone with their own particular sorrows.
And while Mary is finding solace in knitting, her husband finds comfort with “a woman who is always happy.” He moves out of their home, and Mary briefly takes up with a man she meets at a country inn.
Anyone who has suffered a loss, and who of us hasn’t, will find glimpses of themselves in this novel of loss and recovery. Have plenty of tissues on hand and perhaps a cup of hot chocolate to provide a little extra comfort.
Judy Adler is one of fifteen women, whose ages are between forty and eighty, who meet in Fort Smith regularly to knit. The oldest once owned a yarn store in California, so she is considered the expert when someone needs advice. “It really is addictive,” Judy says. “And it’s good for the mind to figure out the patterns. Sometimes I have to enlist the aid of my husband to help me with the math involved.”
One of the members taught her how to knit socks (which are evidently hard to do). Judy started with the cuff and worked down to the heel. When her friend left for a Phoenix vacation, Judy had to wait until she returned before she could finish the sock.
Judy started knitting in the 1960s. Her best friend and mother-in-law taught her to knit, and before long she was knitting baby blankets and baby sweaters. After her children arrived, she took a sabbatical from knitting, but she picked it up again when grandchildren came along.
A native of Michigan, she had the unique experience of attending a one room school house through the sixth grade. “I always tried to please my teacher,” she says, “because I would have her the next year, and the next year, and the next.” During the cold winter months, the students were allowed to leave the school grounds and ice skate on a nearby pond.
A bookmobile came to their village every two weeks in the summer. “What a treat is was to climb those steps, find the books I was interested in, and check out the most allowed,” Judy recalls. Her favorite book was a Rand McNally Tip-Top Elf book called Penny and Pete’s Surprise.
She and her husband, Dick, moved to Fort Smith from St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1984, when he was transferred here with Whirlpool. “I’m a very contented transplant,” she says.
She is currently re-reading The Help; she’s trying to decide if the movie was better than the book.