I first learned to knit when I was about ten years old. It was something to keep me busy, a way of being productive while I watched television or a movie. I come from a family of knitters, crocheters, and quilters. We would get together every so often and work on our projects while we got caught up on what was happening in each others’ lives. It’s therapeutic and helps bring people together.
This is the same basis for Ann Hood’s novel, The Knitting Circle. Mary is a complete mess after the shocking and unexpected death of her young daughter, Stella. Though she doesn’t get along with her mother, Mary does take her advice and learns to knit from Alice the owner of a yarn and knitting store. Mary even joins the Knitting Circle that meets at the shop every week. Focusing on something other than her own grief, Mary slowly comes to terms with her loss and learns that she is not the only one for whom knitting is therapy.
Ann Hood’s novel is very honest in its demonstration of pain and grief. Hood wrote the novel after she found knitting helped her through the loss of her own daughter. I think the novel might be helpful for someone grieving or for someone who enjoys sappy books that set out to make the reader cry.
The structure of the novel is very straightforward. There isn’t much real plot progression. It’s mostly a story of Mary getting to know each of the members of the Knitting Circle and the tragedies that either brought them together. Though the characters are pretty distinct from one another in their attitudes and reactions, their sometimes tough exteriors hide deep sorrows.
Each character seemed to have a tale more depressing than the last. Their experiences overlapped at times and easily caused fresh albeit unintentional pain to other members of the group. The timeline was fuzzy (as I’m sure it is for someone suffering so much debilitating grief) and made other aspects of the novel unrealistic. I know that some places are really good about taking time off when there’s a personal tragedy, but I simply cannot buy how understanding her boss was. Of course, the entire workplace setting Hood set up for Mary felt unrealistic and weird. There is also an obligatory reconciliation with the mother that serves as a climax of sorts, though the novel doesn’t really build to anything except more misery.
I could find no trace of any knitting circle I’ve ever been a part of in the one Mary joined (maybe the knitting circles in Providence are just more tragic in general). I feel that the novel was meant to be understanding of grief, acknowledging the irrationality of thoughts, impulses, and actions while also being a novel that is subtly inspiring in it’s depiction of perseverance and the attempt to move on. However, the only thing it has inspired me to do is return to those more challenging knitting projects that have been piling up in my yarn tub, like the sweater I abandoned when the hot weather set it.