Surviving unfathomable grief and finding the will to live in the world again is the poignant theme of Hood’s latest novel. The protagonist, Mary, has lost her five-year-old daughter, Stella, to meningitis, the sudden onset robbing her of even the opportunity to make peace with her loss.
Mary has never enjoyed a close relationship with her mother; in fact, she has suffered for the lack of intimacy without understanding the reason for her mother’s distance. But it is the older woman who suggests Mary take up knitting. Mary resists, until she finds herself standing at the door of a local Rhode Island shop, “Big Alice’s Sit and Knit.” Alice welcomes the acolyte inside, handing her a pair of knitting needles and the simple instructions to begin a first project.
Her home life floundering, Mary is unable to share her sorrow with husband, Dylan, who implores his wife to let him in. Unable to function other than to simply exist, Mary remains distant, committed only to the Wednesday evening knitting circle Alice holds at her shop. In this place, slowly navigating the dark waters of her grief, Mary finds an island of safety with strangers, each quietly working on a project.
In time, each woman makes personal contact with Mary, and she learns the individual stories that have brought them to the knitting circle. All are damaged in their own ways and reaching for consolation: Scarlet, who owns a bakery, discloses a secret past in which her negligence led to the death of a child; the edgy Lulu finds her simple world destroyed by a random act of violence, unable to return to her marriage.
Then there is Ellen, whose daughter is dying by degrees, waiting desperately for a heart transplant. Harriet copes as best she can with the loss of her son and daughter-in-law in the tragic aftermath of 9/11. As she knits her way through her new reality, stories are shared by the others, one by one, Mary comforted by the meditative repetition of the simple act of knitting and the companionship of other women bearing their own private scars. The sense of community is profoundly healing.
None of the characters bear their wounds visibly, as Mary is wont to do in the early days, but they offer her brokenness a path to healing, one bred of shared experience and the soft click of knitting needles: “We can’t escape, can we? But we can knit.” Offering hope to the damaged and bereaved, the knitting circle is a calming palliative against a world turned alien by grief, a paean to the human heart.
Storyteller Ann Hood weaves the chapters of her novel together with the authority of experience, proffering images of human loss in all its painful forms, the warp and weave of the finished piece as unique as the ladies who gather to mend their lives: “In knitting you can always correct the mistakes. Always.”