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?
The Wishing Thread isn’t simply, as I expected when I started it, a book about knitting or about magic. It’s about the ways we are knit together: as family, as lovers, as community. It’s about the past and the present, traditions and beliefs, hope and despair all inextricably woven together to create the fabric of our stories, both individual and collective. And it’s about our choices, and what we make of them.
This isn’t a fantasy book. If anything, it’s magical realism. But as the reader, you decide — like Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie — whether the magic of the Stitchery is true or merely imagined. And it’s not high magic in any sense; if it exists, it’s an everyday magic, intertwined with the crumbling, broken-edged reality of Tarrytown’s decaying neighborhoods, like a strand of silk held and knitted with a rough woolen thread to form a fabric whose tough durability hides a hint of shimmer when it moves.
The characters in the novel are so well depicted, so real, that they practically jump out of the pages. Bitty’s determined denial of magic, Aubrey’s belief and her insecurities and desires, and Meggie’s close-held grief and longing brought each woman to life as I read, until I felt I knew them intimately as family, as though I were an invisible cousin living in their home. Bitty was the hardest to get to know; she held me at bay much as she holds her sisters at bay. Some of the secondary characters are equally well-drawn: Bitty’s children, Nessa and Carter; Aubrey’s wonderful friend Vic, and even the high society matron, Ruth Ten Eyck.
Tarrytown came alive for me, as well; I found myself wanting to visit the town, to see the lighthouse and mansions and cemetery and clock tower for myself. Alas, while Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow are real, Tappan Square and the Stitchery exist only within the pages of the book. I would have loved to visit the Stitchery, to climb its sagging stairs and explore its turret and attics.
The Van Ripper family and Tappan Square’s struggles to fend off an eminent domain seizure were simultaneously enheartening and heartbreaking. I really didn’t see the ending coming, yet somehow it felt so right, as though I’d known subconciously where it was headed all along.
As a knitter, I delighted in the quotes from the Great Book in the Hall that begin each chapter. As a result of reading both those and The Wishing Thread as a whole, I know I’ll think about my own knitting differently from now on: about the intention I put into my stitches, about knitting as a creative, almost magical act.
I highly recommend The Wishing Thread for readers who love interesting characters and more than a touch of ambiguity. It would make an excellent book club choice; there is so much to discuss and debate within its pages. I loved the novel, and will be picking up a print copy for my shelves as soon as I can.
Rating: 4.5 stars (rounded up to 5 for Goodreads)
About the author: Lisa Van Allen holds an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a BA from McDaniel College. She has been published in many literary journals and magazines and has been a nominee for The Pushcart Prize. You can find her at her website and on Facebook, Pinterest, and Ravelry (a knitting/crochet website).
Category: General fiction; Magical realism
Release date: Sept. 3, 2013
Book source: Review copy from Ballantine through NetGalley
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