The Knitting Circle

Full disclosure: this was not the first time I’ve read Ann Hood’s The Knitting Circle. I read it before I started documenting my books online or even in my old notebook, but I know I read this. Also, part of the reason I picked this book to read was because I just started knitting and I thought it would be fun to see someone get lost in the hobby that I just started.

After the loss of her only child, Mary Baxter can barely breath let alone live the life she had beforehand. She cannot work, cannot drive by the parks that her daughter once played at, or frequent the coffee shops where other mothers gather while their children are at school. It seems her whole world is a reminder of what she no longer has and she closes herself away from it. Somehow she finds her way the a knitting store and begins to learn how to knit. She loses herself in the focus it requires to learn knitting and how the whole world shrinks down to the needles and yarn when she creates her first scarf.

(Side note: the speed at which she completes some of this projects astounds me. I’ve been knitting the same thing for weeks now and have ripped it out at least 20 times due to all the screw ups I find. I don’t know if the fact that Mary is able to knit at the speed and accuracy portrayed is meant to show how much focus, energy, and time she’s devoting to this new obsession or if Hood is just unaware how hard it is to pick up knitting and complete a piece without massive amounts of errors in the time she allowed.)

As Mary learns how to create different knitted works, she learns the sad back stories of the other members of the knitting circles. In teaching Mary different techniques, they open up their hearts and share their own story of loss, violence, grief, anger, and how they have also felt the inability to move after a disaster in their lives. The knitting circle is a circle of survivors that work together to live a life that differs from the ones they had before. Even thinking about the stories makes my eyes water and you shouldn’t think about reading this without a box of tissues nearby.

Ann Hood captures some horrible stories yet brings hope and endurance to each one. Knitting is the way this group survived their life and they help Mary get through hers. The friendships that are created from this shared hobby strengthens the group and each member, helping to move on to the next stage of their life. Mary uses the knitting to focus away from her grief, but it also allows her the time for her heart to heal, just enough, to live again.

This is a powerful book of stories and how we all have a past, and no matter how perfect someone might look, we are fragile and flawed and we are all trying to survive each day the best that we can. Very cathartic read.

Read April 2014

The Language of Flowers

Flowers and their victorian hidden meaning play a central role in Victoria Jone’s life. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh follows Victoria as she ages out of the foster care system. We see how little the 18 year old is prepared to live on her own after spending a lifetime of moving from foster home to foster home and then care facility to care facility. She’s as prickly as a cactus yet uses beautiful flowers to communicate her hatred of those around her. After finding a florist who trusts her enough to let her work her flower magic, her current life falls into a routine but she is confronted with her past at the flower stalls.

Through flashbacks we learn that once there was hope in her life and she had a chance for a real family with one of her foster moms, Elizabeth. Diffenbaugh only gives us little snippets of the story and dangles her secret past to tempt us to keep reading. The idea of family and forgiveness is central to this story as more than one family is ripped apart by anger, jealousy, and guilt. As Victoria learns that the language of flowers is not definite, we learn the the definition of family is fluid as well.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, but there is so much heartbreak and hope in this story. Romantic love, filial love, and mother’s love are all things that Victoria believes are out of her reach. Throughout this beautiful story she learns that she has the chance for hope and love. Its not a standard love story, but love is at the center. Diffenbaugh writes with the characters raw emotions on the page so don’t read this without a tissue handy.

There were some story points that I thought could have been worked through a little more, like Victoria’s birth story and her relationship with the foster system. Both of those really shaped who she is, and I would have liked to see a little more back story or social commentary on how she ended up where she was. Overall though, this was a good story and Victoria refuses to be defined by her past and works to make her future and other girls with her similar upbringing better in a nonconventional way.

Read April 2014

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

When I think of Zelda Fitzgerald, I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife who lived the very essence of the Jazz Age and succumbed to the hangover of that time in a sanitarium due to some mental illness. I had not heard or remembered much about her supposed effect on her husband’s work or that she was either a muse or a yoke.

Therese Anne Fowler’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald takes the rumors and the facts of her life to create a realistic picture of what Zelda’s life could have been. Fowler portrays F. Scott Fitzgerald as a man in love with life, and in love with the beautiful girl from Alabama that he met while in the military. He helps transform a southern belle into the epitome of the modern Jazz girl, a real flapper that dances on table tops or in fountains after drinking champagne all night.

Fowler takes license to create a relationship between the Fitzgeralds that I’ve only glimpsed in other novels. Fowler does not dispute that they both loved to party and they moved on whims to better create an environment conducive to writing. The people that filled their lives, fill this novel and its a who’s who of the writing world in the 1920’s. The Fitzgeralds knew everyone who needed to be known. This alone made the novel worth reading. Its a different point of view from Ernest Hemingway’s An Immoveable Feast or Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, but one worth remembering and thinking about.

We also get to see a relationship built on love, but not necessarily logic or reality. Fowler treats Zelda as someone who’s true story hasn’t been told. And maybe that’s true. The victors write the history books, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s success allowed his tale to take dominance. Fowler gives some history to Zelda’s side and throws doubt on whether Zelda should have been in the sanitariums and perhaps if the treatments caused some additional ailments.

I can’t comment on the accuracy and in the Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments, Fowler discussed the historical truths and literary licenses she took in writing the novel. Was Fitzgerald a louse who preferred to party over writing, or was Zelda the instigator who made it hard for him to find time to write. Just like most relationships, I’m sure there’s truth to all the rumors, and this novel gives more light to the possibility that F. Scott Fitzgerald drove their relationship over the edge, not Zelda.

Read March 2014.