I picked this one up as kind of a fluke. I haven't really been super interested in fictional books about knitting lately--mostly I just kind of feel like it's all the same sort of plot. But I needed a hardback book to get me through the weekend while I was running around the Bay Area (I read one paperback, one e-book, and one hardback at the same time, depending on the portability needs of my life situation) and my current hardback is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and that's such a giant brick that it's living at my work. So I grabbed this one off the top of the pile of bathroom reading and took it along. But while this book has its weaknesses, it was a lot better than I was expecting it to be. Sure, it's about knitting, but it's also a really poignant meditation on long-term grief and how to deal with it. I don't normally read books on grief either--The Year Of Magical Thinking is about where I wanted to stop with that--but this is a good one.
Mary's five-year-old daughter Stella died unexpectedly of meningitis. She's been utterly crushed ever since. Her mother Mamie hasn't been terribly helpful--she was always distant to Mary growing up, and was an alcoholic to boot until she took up knitting. Now that Mamie lives in Mexico, she couldn't even be arsed to show up to her granddaughter's funeral. However, Mamie suggested that Mary take up knitting....and called up her old friend Alice who runs a knit shop. Alice called with an offer of a lesson, and Mary goes along and tries to learn how to make a scarf. Alice has a knitting circle of people who have all had whopping grief issues, and as Mary progresses in her knitting skills, she gets to know the other members and find out what bad things happened to them and how they're coping with it. A lot of emphasis is put on how just giving your hands something to do and your brain something else to think about really, really helps. Now, god knows I know from experience, but reading this book suddenly made me want to kind of force people I know in difficulties to knit, even the ones who have no interest or ability. (Don't worry, I'm not gonna become a knit nag.)
I mentioned that this book had its weaknesses. Well, it pretty much kind of boils down to one medium-sized one: whenever a character decides to tell Mary what his or her tragic story is, it comes off as a monologue. This especially comes off as kind of odd when Mary barely knows the person and yet here they are, trotting out their sad tale. And while I can't say for sure they haven't been told what Mary's deal is by Alice when Mary wasn't there (Mary doesn't tell her entire story until the end of the book, though you get the gist of it from the start), it is kind of like, "This is the first time we've hung out alone together, why are you telling me the story of your horrible tragedy right now?" It seemed....theatrical and kind of off from how real people would behave. Call me crazy, but revealing major tragedies in great detail seems like something that most folks might wait a while to tell you. Now, this effect lessens as the book goes on--both in that Mary gets to know some people better before they reveal their life stories, and in that the stories become more conversational and less "I could totally use this as a monologue at my next audition." Heck, some characters actually keep it fairly short or end abruptly, as humans do.
But that said....I'd probably watch a show of monologues done from this book. They are good, after all. I was genuinely touched and even a little teary-feeling at times, and that's saying something coming from blackhearted me. Mary's journey is slow and not easy, and it takes her a long time to adjust to things and get back into working and to deal with her family relationships. I found that to be pretty realistic. But people eventually manage to resolve their feelings and move on, and it's beautiful.
I'm going to give it four stars. Even if you're not into knitting, if you've had some whopping bad thing happen to you in your life, this is a good one to read.