The Friday Night Knitting Club
The Friday Night Knitting Club
by Kate Jacobs
Hodder & Stoughton, HK$195
Knitting is 'the new yoga', offering the calming, repetitive click of needles; 'I made it myself' pride and satisfaction; the sensuous feel of yarn slipping through the fingers - a comforting antidote to the angst and stresses of contemporary life post-September 11. Kate Jacobs knows this.
The Canadian writer, a former New York magazine and website editor now living in southern California, sees her debut novel as a story of relationships, with knitting a metaphor for life.
Each part begins with a journal extract, a musing on the nature, satisfactions and challenges of the craft. And Jacobs' plot, carefully geared to the niche market of which she's a part - women who knit - isn't simply a story about such women, but owes its very existence to the so-called knitting revolution.
This morphing of a once-homely domestic art into the foundation of a fashionable, creative, international sisterhood, its popularity further boosted by knitting celebrities such as Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah, has spawned a literary genre - non-fiction short story collections and, more recently, novels - from which The Friday Night Knitting Club is the latest to emerge.
Friday nights at Manhattan knitting store Walker and Daughter mean knitting and chatting, technical help from Anita, gorgeous yarns chosen by store owner and single mother Georgia Walker and cookies baked by her 12-year-old daughter Dakota.
But from these beginnings as a casual drop-in night the club becomes so much more: a place to make friends and find the love and support of knitting sisters as the regulars face loneliness, unemployment, divorce and even cancer. All are coping with issues that will resonate with Jacobs' readers.
The Friday Night Knitting Club is the story of Georgia and Dakota as they deal with the reappearance of Dakota's long-absent black father in their lives, with teenage angst, the trials of running a small business, with illness and strained family relationships.
It's also the story of Anita, coming to terms with widowhood and the possibilities of a future with another man. And there's Darwin Chiu, a Chinese-American who spent her childhood living up to her mother's 'sheltering, Old World' expectations, then railed against them by becoming a women's history researcher and eloping with her boyfriend.
Jacobs' experience in writing and editing shows. She writes well, her characters are well drawn, her narrative carefully constructed and smooth-flowing. The Friday Night Knitting Club is colourful and sharply observed, its textures rich and warm, the women's stories stitched together with affection by one who understands the power of needles and yarn.
It's heartwarming and heartrending, intended not only to be read by knitters, but while knitting (yes, it's possible, apparently). It also, surprisingly, doesn't run to a neat, chocolate-box ending. As the final chapters unfold, tissues should be kept close by.
The subtitle - 'It's fun to stitch and bitch' - makes no secret of the fact that Jacobs isn't pitching for a general readership here. Safe to say that this is a work from which knitters will derive far more enjoyment than those whom the mysteries and satisfactions of two sticks and a string elude.
There's an appendix that provides the recipe for Dakota's oatmeal, blueberry and orange muffins and the pattern for the basic scarf made by beginner knitter Darwin. For those who long to join the club, the internet can oblige at www.walkeranddaughter.com.
And boys, this one's for the girls.