The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

After the death of Mary’s five-year-old daughter, Stella, her mother encourages her to learn how to knit. And so Mary finds herself at Big Alice’s Sit and Knit, where, with the help of the women in the group, she learns about knitting as well as about life and grief and friendship.

This is a pretty straightforward book about a community of women supporting each other – of course each woman has not only knitting secrets but also a story to share that will help Mary learn about grieving and overcoming loss. It didn’t feel . . . cheesy or smarmy to me, though. It was a warm book that felt very friendly and real, and read very quickly. One review, from The Washington Post, said, “In the end, there is something where there once was nothing: a scarf, a pair of socks, solace where there once was pain. Little by little, by knit and by purl, Mary’s empty hands are once again full.” I like that, how it echoes Naomi. The friendships and lessons that Mary is given don’t replace what she has lost, but she learns how to live again.

One of the themes is the belief that each stitch that a knitter knits is a prayer. As the book unfolds, the repetition of knitting gives Mary something to focus on as she learns how to live again. That reminded me of something I wrote early last summer about prayer, how praying a repetitive prayer helps me feel anchored to God, repeating words that millions of others have also said. For Mary, knitting provides that same sort of anchor – learning stitches that others before her have learned, grounding her simultaneously in the past and the present.

What I liked best about The Knitting Circle was how sharing in other people’s grief gave Mary perspective and courage. When you are caught up in your own life, you aren’t able to think about what other people are thinking and feeling. In sharing their own personal sorrows with Mary, her new friends were giving her a very important gift – the ability to look past herself. And in learning how to put words to her own loss, Mary learns how to fill her hands and her life with the people around her.

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