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Following the threads
In the world of knitting, there is a category of projects known as UFOs: Unfinished Objects. Everybody has themthe knitting that is hidden away because it was too hard, too boring or too ugly to finish. First-time author Anne Bartlett, clearly a knitter, knows all about UFOs, and in this crisp, slim novel she introduces us to two women whose unresolved business of life threatens to overwhelm them.
Sandra and Martha meet on a city street where they both stop to help a fallen man. In this chance encounter, the two women begin a relationship that Bartlett renders in a totally unsentimental way. They could not be more different: Sandra is a buttoned-up academic, grief-stricken and furious at the recent death of her husband. Martha looks for all the world like a frumpy, wandering bag lady. After a few timid meetings, Sandra discovers that Martha is a ferocious, brilliant knitter, so she asks Martha to help her knit a group of vintage patterns for a textile exhibit she is mounting.
It is not easy to write about knitting without slipping into mawkishness. What is most admirable about this novel is the way Bartlett refuses to let Sandra and Martha become instant bosom buddies simply because they both love textiles. The fragility of their relationshipit can't really be called a friendshipis plausible because it isn't perfect. That texture, that imperfection, is what makes Bartlett's novel so compelling.
Knitting is for anyone who has enjoyed Carol Shields or the brittle Anita Brookner. There is a lot in this book for anyone who ponders the big questions of life: the nature of friendship, the need for meaningful work, the comfort of sharing grief. But let's face itany knitter will be turning the pages for the true drama of this book: what is the elaborate white project Martha keeps working on? Will it become a UFO, too?
Ann Shayne writes about knitting with her friend Kay Gardiner at www.masondixonknitting.com. Their book, Mason-Dixon Knitting, will be published next spring.