Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005
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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations



by Anne Bartlett

Reviewed April 22, 2005.
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2005.  272 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (MCN F BAR).
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#4, Literary Fiction)

I was excited when someone contacted me from Houghton Mifflin, a reputable publishing company.  After reading my review of Debbie Macomber’s The Shop on Blossom Street, they suspected that I would like this first novel by Anne Bartlett.  They were absolutely right!

The first paragraph captivated me, even bringing tears to my eyes:

“Ever since Jack’s funeral Sandra had been covered in glass.  Not glass from an accident, shattered bits of windshield or the hard razor-cut edges of a plate glass window.  Nothing like that.  Sandra was covered in a thick layer of elastic glass that stretched over her body like another skin, holding her in and keeping everybody else out.  It moved with her wherever she went, invisible under her clothes, into the shower, into bed, into the sun, and kept her cold as ice.  Friends knocked on it.  She could hear them, but the glass was over her eyes, too, so that everything she saw was far away, even though she knew she could reach out and touch.  She was covered in ice-cold glass and would never be warm again.”

Sandra has been a widow for ten months.  She’s an academic, studying women’s domestic work.  She wants to mount an exhibition displaying clothing made by women.  Then she meets Martha.  Martha strikes Sandra as a little strange.  She always carries three large bags around with her, everywhere she goes.  But Martha is an accomplished knitter.  What if Martha were to knit pieces following patterns women used over the last hundred years?  Sandra has her idea for her exhibition.

This book will appeal to lovers of knitting, as Sandra sees how Martha’s knitting and her own knitting with words are related.  Sandra thinks that Martha copes so well with her own widowhood—she lost her husband when she was still a teenager.  Martha has a zest for living that Sandra feels she has lost.

But Martha has her own problems.  As pressure builds to finish the items for the exhibition, their friendship develops some cracks.

I love the way this book shows that there’s no one perfect way of “coping” with the tremendous pain life can give us.  We’re all broken people.  We’ve got cracks, we make mistakes.  But even a chipped plate can still be useful and decorative.  (I love the part where Martha tells off the psychologist she saw when she was first widowed.)

The author of this book is a pastor’s wife.  She does throw in a touch of spirituality, but it’s done with a beautifully light touch, not heavy-handed.  We see in a lovely picture how God doesn’t want us to carry around our mistakes.

This is a beautiful book.  It does get very sad in spots.  I don’t like to think too hard about losing a husband.  But above the sadness is an overarching theme that we’re all people with cracks, but we can still knit beautiful things out of our lives.  I hope that Anne Bartlett writes many more books.  This was an auspicious beginning.

Reviews of other novels about knitting:
Died in the Wool, by Mary Kruger
The Shop on Blossom Street, by Debbie Macomber
A Good Yarn, by Debbie Macomber

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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