For Elizabeth Detlaff, the town of Comfort — a small place nestled in the mountains of North Carolina — represents a slower-paced, happier life than the one she has known in New York City. She arrives on the wings of a dream, convinced she should “seek comfort” somewhere far from the world she inhabits with her boyfriend Dominique, a successful French chef, and the secluded existence she has in the city. Without a plan or a real motivation, she goes.
Down in Comfort, Elizabeth finds a room to rent from Megan Morgan, mother of three and friend to many. Megan lives with her children and Vera, her mother-in-law, in a home purchased by Stanley, Megan’s seemingly-perfect salesman of a husband who travels more often than he settles roots. Longtime sweethearts, Megan and Stanley appear to have the perfect marriage — lovingly nestled together in this tiny town where everyone knows everyone, where everyone looks out for everyone.
But Comfort isn’t without its troubles — or its secrets. Megan knits Shetland lace, a skill passed down through the generations, in order to cope with a lonely life Elizabeth is, at first, unable to see. With Stanley traveling often for work and Megan left to tend to the family’s needs, Elizabeth’s new landlord seeks solace in the Purls, a knitting group she attends with Vera and local friends. It’s through their friendships that she finds the strength to be more — and do more. And though Elizabeth arrives thinking she needs to change, it’s everyone around her who changes, too.
Isabel Sharpe’s Knit In Comfort, the latest in a string of knitting-centered novels, is a slower-than-molasses look at the disintegration of a marriage, the forging of new friendships, the creation of something beautiful — and I wanted it to work. Really, truly, I did, but something was missing.
What went wrong, really? It’s hard for me to pinpoint what I disliked so much about these people, though that powerful dislike was strong and true. Elizabeth comes across as flighty, disconnected, a young woman with no real goals or dreams of her own — and that grated on me. She grows in the story, sure, but not that much. Not enough to redeem her. In my eyes, she was nosy — a busybody. Though Megan clearly needed help getting out of a deep, deep rut, I didn’t know why Elizabeth, a bossy Yankee, had to be the one to do it. (And I mean no offense to Yankees, y’all — my mother is one!)
And Megan. Dear, sweet, ridiculous Megan. We have the same name, see, so I’m having a hard time ripping on her, but I truly wanted to reach into the novel and give her a good slap. Not a little punch on the arm, you know, or a gentle shake. A slap. The woman is nuts. For putting up with what she’s put up with, for keeping silent about things she should never have kept silent about, for living with her pesky mother-in-law. She needed a slap. And who wants to spend 300 pages wanting to hit a character more than anything you’ve wanted to do in recent memory?
But I’m not here to bash someone’s hard work. (Or am I?) No, friends, Knit In Comfort wasn’t terrible — and that’s the hard part. Sharpe’s writing was clear and struck a good balance between showing-and-telling, leaving bits of the plot to the imagination and divulging pieces of a mystery at a good pace. I loved the stories of Megan’s ancestors and their difficult lives made easier by their passion for lace and knitting, a skill Megan continues. Each chapter opens with stories of Fiona, Megan’s ancestor, and the love she had for Calum — before he was enchanted by Gillian, a mysterious woman who arrives in their small town. I’m pretty sure I would have rather read an entire novel about them than this broken crew.
Still, the stories of lace-making — and the friendships here — redeemed the novel for me, and I was pleased with the book’s ending. Most of it seems fanciful, unbelievable, but I liked the peripheral characters who helped flesh out Knit In Comfort. For fans of women’s fiction seeking a strong narrative centering around knitting, I would still return to that old standard: Kate Jacobs’ The Friday Night Knitting Club. That novel annoyed me, too, though for completely different reasons.
Well, almost completely different.
3 out of 5!
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program