The popular Rhode Island author’s eighth novel (Ruby, 1998, etc.) is another domestic melodrama about loss, grief, therapeutic bonding and communal healing.
The title denotes the group of female friends hesitantly joined by Providence matron Mary Baxter, following the sudden death of her five-year-old daughter Stella. Gradually forming acquaintances (if not quite friendships) with the women she encounters at “Big Alice’s” Sit and Knit, Mary sleepwalks through her days, grasping the tenuous connection that binds her to husband Dylan, edging back toward her part-time job as cultural reporter for a local weekly alternative newspaper. This somewhat static narrative pattern is punctuated by terse phone conversations with her mother Mamie, an alcoholic who has always kept Mary at a distance (and who inexplicably failed to attend her granddaughter’s funeral). Then we hear the knitters’ personal stories in a sort of Oprah-moderated Decameron. Red-haired beauty Scarlet became involved with a married Parisian, but their affair fell victim to her carelessness. Tough-talking “glass artist” Lulu survived a violent rape. Ellen has a teenaged daughter with a failing heart—and, furthermore, left the close Appalachian community where she grew up to abscond with the charming Irishman who proved unworthy of her love. Embittered Harriet lost loved ones on 9/11, “perfect” supermom Beth suffers from cancer. And so on, through the bad days when Dylan leaves depressive Mary for another woman, until a restorative Christmas season filled with reconciliations, good cheer, completed knitting projects and all that good stuff. The impulse behind this novel is respectable (an author’s note discloses that it’s based on Hood’s own very similar experience of loss). But its overload of clichés, redundancy and exceedingly predictable sentimentality fails its good intentions.
Readers can only knit their brows in consternation, and hope for a better book next time.