Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen

The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.
When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?

Goodreads Description

This book is women's fiction with a touch of magic.  This type of fiction isn't my normal choice, but as part of my magic realism challenge I try to read widely and it often pays off, as with this book. I enjoyed this book. It wasn't particularly challenging in subject matter or technically, but it is a good story told well. Just when I thought I knew where the story was heading, there was a unexpected twist towards the end. 

Is the magic in this story real? Is it coincidence? Is it wishful thinking? Bitty, the eldest sister, doesn't believe in it. Bitty would have been happy to believe it was real. She would have been the first person to say "sign me up!" But in the end, magic was a false security, a grasping at power that humans didn't have but desperately wished for.

The fact is that the magic of the Stitchery is unreliable. None of the guardians of the Stitchery (including Aubrey and Mariah) is able to guarantee that the spells, which they knit into the garments they create, will work. Nor does there seem to be any logic or explanation about which spells fail, which sometimes happens heartbreakingly. This questioning of the magic runs through the book, not just in the doubts of the characters like Bitty, but also in the narration - Chapter One ends with The magic of the Van Ripper family, they said, was in the knitting. If it was magic at all.
In the end it comes down to whether you are like Aubrey, who sees the magic and some sort of order in the world, or like Bitty.

It is interesting that in this book, as in The Threads of the Heartthe women's magic is based in a traditional woman's craft. In other magic realism books about women the magic is to be found in the preparation of food. I have spoken elsewhere about magic realism as a vehicle for showing women's strength. What does placing the magic in traditional female activity say about women?  Speaking for myself knitting doesn't exactly float my boat. It seems a very passive activity to me, but I can see that a lot of readers will enjoy and understand the knitting symbolism more than me. 

As the eldest of three sisters, I found the relationship between the three very different Van Ripper girls both interesting and well drawn. Both Bitty and Meggie have for different reasons turned their backs on the Stitchery and now are drawn back by Mariah's death, Aubrey's need for her family and, whilst they do not admit it, their own needs. I would have liked more about their relationships.  

This book has been recommended to people who enjoy Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen. It is light and gentle, with a little but not too much romance. All in all it is an enjoyable read.

I received this book through Netgalley in return for a fair review.
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