The Wishing Thread
By Lisa Van Allen
September 3, 2013
Aubrey Van Ripper has known since girlhood that she bore the responsibility to carry on the generations-old tradition of knitting magic into the scarves, sweaters, and other items sold in the Stitchery, the family shop in Tarrytown, New York, next door to Sleepy Hollow. Aubrey and her sisters were taught the family craft by their Aunt Mariah. Bitsy, the oldest sister, rejected the very idea of magic and turned her back on the superstition and poverty of life in the Stitchery. Her goal is to see that her children have a safe and normal life. Meggie, the youngest sister, also flees at the first opportunity and became a wanderer in search of her mother. When Mariah has a fatal heart attack in the middle of a fight to save the Stitchery and its environs from those who want to destroy the neighborhood to make way for a mall, the sisters discover that their aunt has left the Stitchery with its long history and its tower of sacrificed treasures to all of them. Bitsy and Meggie want to sell it, a move that Aubrey vehemently opposes.
Each of the sisters is engaged in her own journey that includes coming to terms with her past, accepting the self she is in the process of becoming, and reconciling the bonds and tensions that are unique to sisters, but it is Aubrey’s story that lies at the heart of the book. Her aloneness even in the face of the abiding love she shares with her sisters and her best friend is tempered by her developing relationship with Vic Olivera, a Tappan Square neighbor who becomes her ally in the fight to save their neighborhood and a man who sees past her reputation and defenses to love who Aubrey truly is. But will the heritage that Aubrey is committed to preserving require the sacrifice of the relationship that offers her the greatest happiness she has known?
The Wishing Thread is a mix of women’s fiction and romance with touches of magical realism. The characters capture the reader’s interest and affections, and the story teases the reader with the question of what is real and what is magic.
From the Great Book in the Hall: There is, of course, always a question—a question of the difference between what is real and what is true. A thing can be true without being real. You may not grasp this entirely, but don’t worry. This is the nature of faith, of magic, of art, of a good life’s work: If you ever understand perfectly what you are doing, you should stop right away.
Van Allen’s use of knitting as real craft, as magic, and as metaphor has particular resonance given the role needlecraft has played in women’s history. Her prose has a lovely lyricism that I found greatly appealing. If you are a fan of writers such as Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen, I predict you will enjoy this book as much as I did.
I find fascinating the fusion of the real and the fantastic that is central to magical realism, but I know some readers dislike it, as reactions to some of Lisa Kleypas’s Friday Harbor books attest. What do you think?