The Friday Night Knitting Club is about as chick-lit as you can get: a group of women share their lives and become friends over knitting needles. They laugh. They cry. They grow. They change. So, what's different about this novel? Not a lot — however, in this case that's not a bad thing. Sometimes, if the formula works, you need to just go with it. Kate Jacobs did just that, and with great success.
I liked the story of The Friday Night Knitting Club. It was the main character I didn't like, which made liking the novel that much harder.
Georgia is a modern woman, single mother and entrepreneur. She owns a yarn boutique on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and lives in a two-bedroom apartment above it with her pre-teen daughter, Dakota. And she is a royal pain in the patoot. She's a "tough" and "strong" woman because she keeps reminding herself of it, rather than letting her actions do so — which they wouldn't have.
She's not a real people-person, which in such an intimate setting as a craft store should have been a detriment — and yet having two good assistants who work part-time in the shop relieved her from "friendly" duty. She hasn't mastered the art of idle chit-chat, which I can understand, but after 12 years of retail work? And yet she has these people flocking around her. Time after time, people come to her to try to connect, and all she can give them is a weak smile and lament in her head that she's not set up for that kind of relationship. Yet her shop is filled with a cast of characters that is fabulous, diverse and interesting.
I also didn't much like Dakota, Georgia's 12-year-old daughter. She was over-the-top and annoying rather than precocious. That may be a good description of a pre-teen, but it wasn't a likeable one. Plus, I didn't think she was fully or fairly formed. She throbbed on the edge, more of a prop than a person, a setup for Georgia and James, the one who got away (but not before he fathered a biracial child who would try to give the story a tint of multicultural relevance).
But back to the cool cast of characters. I loved Anita, the older woman who helped Georgia from the beginning and, when she needed it, found a safe place to land. She was smart and resourceful, wealthy enough to be comfortable without fretting over growing old in what can be a cruel city, loving and supportive and delightfully independent. I loved the fact that she was smart enough to keep her mouth shut but not too smart to keep out of what needs to be meddled with in Georgia's life. Frankly, without Anita, Georgia would have been a lonely introvert with a confused kid.
I found Darwin amazing. She should have been the least likable character because she was such a contrarian with such a flimsy cover. However, like so many insecure people who want to be a part of the club they envy and criticize, she threw up barriers that cried to be knocked down. She was so busy trying to decide what she wasn't going to be that she forgot to see what it was she wanted to be.
Lucie sounded true to me: a woman who hadn't found a life partner but wanted a life and a few of the trappings that goes along with love and family. I didn't approve of how she went about trying to live this life, but it proved the old axiom of "jump, and the mattress will be at the bottom of the ragged ravine to soften the impact." Or something like that. I also liked the connection Lucie made with an unlikely companion, and how that evolved a few characters in ways that were rather unexpected but welcome.
I also loved Gran, Georgia's grandmother. She was a little pat for me, exactly the kind of salt-of-the-earth elderly lady in a small Scottish village one would expect, but she was lovely and perfectly written for the story.
The story itself was a little long in coming. It didn't as much feel like a story but people crowding into a shop for a while to eat the creations of a precocious child whose mother perceived her as the next Julia Child because she liked to bake. Georgia's story had to be told first, from the beginning to present, about her love life. Not until an unrecognizable thorn in her childhood side walked into her life did you understand Georgia's alleged toughness.
However, the party got started when we began meeting a few of the characters. Some remained in the background, which isn't bad — except the choice of background characters made little sense. Some of the women closest to Georgia remained shadow characters, doing what they were meant to do but not much more, which was unfair to the reader. Why not them? Why a few out of left field? True, they were quirkier, but there wasn't a 'normal" character in the bunch. (Don't even start me on the few men of this novel.) I suspect the rest of the characters are either jettisoned in the next two books of the series, or developed in the sequels (Knit Two and Knit the Season, both released on the same day last autumn).
I felt the pangs of all that went on in the worlds of the women, despite Georgia's shrill voice and temper at certain situations. I thought one of the most important elements was rushed in almost in a desperate attempt to make us cry by the end of the book. (It worked.) I resented it, though I know that sometimes that's what life does. It didn't make me like Georgia any more either, which I hope it wasn't intended to do.
I'm curious about where the next two installments take the story. I might take up the second novel on another chilly day, with the fireplace blazing and some cookies and hot tea on the table next to me. It was a nice winter novel, and I can recommend it.