Mary Baxter had always wanted to be a very specific type of mother: one who was attentive and involved, the kind who would finger paint with her child, organize play dates to the park, and have picnics in the backyard. Her child would never want for attention or affection. Mary was exactly this kind of mom for five blissful years — until her only child Stella died suddenly.
"The Knitting Circle" (W. W. Norton & Company; $24.95), by Ann Hood, begins at a point when Mary feels her own life has ended. The funeral is long over, but friends and acquaintances still trickle past the Baxter's front door leaving baked goods and notes of condolence, offering invitations for dinner, coffee, a shopping trip — offers that continually go unanswered. Though her husband Dylan returns to work, Mary opts to stay at home and fills her days watching and re-watching programs on the food channel. The few times that she ventures out of her home the errands prove too difficult; just the sight of a little girl at the grocery store is enough to bring Mary to tears.
Yet Mary inexplicably finds herself driving to "Big Alice's Sit and Knit" one Wednesday night and sitting down with big Alice and five other women to learn to knit and purl. She is skeptical at the outset, thinking that these women and their quaint knitting circle could not even begin to ease her pain. Mary's story is buoyed by Hood's gentle prose and colorful cast of characters. In the spirit of the "The Joy Luck Club" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," "The Knitting Circle" takes hold of the reader and doesn't let them go.