The Friday Night Knitting Club
by Kate Jacobs
I've never been much in the habit of reading the current hot novel--whether it be Grisham, Crichton, Nora Roberts, or Dan Brown. I've read their books, in an eventually-couple of years later kind of way. That this included knitting certainly influenced this choice, mostly because I don't really go for nice meaningful books about relationships between women. I don't really read "beach lit" either, preferring cozy mysteries and romance novels that make no apologies for having happily ever afters in the final pages.
But I picked this book up: the current best seller, story about strong women and I need to get it back soon because there are holds on it, which moved it to the top of the reading queue. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it.
Knitting and a yarn shop in New York provide the setting Jacobs' story. One gets an almost immediate impression that Jacobs was influenced both by Steel Magnolias and Olivia Goldsmith's First Wives Club. She presents the story of a young woman, Georgia, who was abandoned by her boyfriend while pregnant with her daughter and who has spent twelve years raising her daughter--and running her yarn store. Georgia is the welcoming knit-store owner, but rather standoffish personally and this makes her a slightly difficult main character.
We step into the story at this 12 year point, where a collection of eclectic patrons have started gathering on Friday evenings to knit, munch on Georgia's daughters baked creations, and share their lives. You're drawn into each woman's life both within the circle and outside the shop--giving you perspective on what each woman brings and what draws her back to the group. No one has a charmed life, even the well off widow who has no financial concerns and functions slightly as the glamorous matriarch. Among them we see a newly divorced woman reclaiming herself, an uptight graduate student who sees knitting as anti-feminist, an emerging designer and a woman seeking motherhood for the first time and completely on her own.
Georgia's story is at the center though and as we follow her through juggling her professional and personal responsibilities, her concern for her customers while also trying to stay somewhat separate from them--a self-defense technique, and her struggles with a daughter moving from child to teenager--we're also caught between her past and present when her former boyfriend, and daughter's father, comes back into her life.
Jacobs handles this awkward topic better than most authors. Georgia is rightfully suspicious and fearful of getting hurt again. She has all of the frustrations of a woman who has done everything she can for her daughter and feels her efforts are being undermined by a man trying to buy his way back into her child's life. Jacobs also tries to present a more human side to James, the ex-boyfriend/father, but it's difficult for the reader to forgive him. Jacobs doesn't let Georgia forgive him quickly and that made me admire Georgia all the more. I wasn't completely resigned to her forgiveness of him, even as carefully as Jacobs crafts Georgia's willingness to move on, but that may be my reading of it.
Jacobs creates a relatively believable world. A couple of convenient coincidences require a smidgen of reality-suspension but not so far that one feels this couldn't happen. The emotions remain true and gives a satisfactory story. Questions aren't completely answered at the end but not in a bad way--you know the trajectory for the future of these women and, after having had a chance to peer into their lives for a couple of hours (months in the book), you're able to send them on their way, hopeful for their future.
It's not necessary that you knit to enjoy this story--but it doesn't hurt and if it encourages you to pick up the needles, come by on Wednesdays to the library. I'm becoming a pretty decent teacher.