Tag Archive: Review 8

Its a Crewel, Crewel World.

Today’s book is Crewel World by Monica Ferris, The first in the “Patterns of Murder” Needlecraft mysteries.

Okay, a word as to how I got to a mystery series that involves the needlecrafting world. J knows this about me, but even as a good friend, I doubt he knows the depths of my obsession. Anyway when I am not reading I knit, crochet, needlepoint and cross-stitch. I like to keep my hands busy. So this week was a rough one for me, with some dental work having gone awry, and as anyone knows, it can be really hard to function when you are in pain. So the week left me tired, in a haze and feeling like a limp noodle, so at the week’s end I finally got myself off the sofa and to my cross-stitch group.

Once there, my friend L came rolling in with a huge tote bag full of books. “For you” she said (she knows about the blog project) “This is stuff you can read without too much effort while your jaw heals up.”  The bag contained mostly mystery novels, and one of them was Crewel World, which I set out to read immediately.

So the setup of the book is that a woman named Margot owns a needlepoint/yarn shop in a small town in Minnesota. Her sister, Betsy, comes to live with her after her college professor husband runs off on her with a student. Margot is one of those pillars of the community that so many small towns have, a widow who is deeply involved and well liked, and Betsy is regarded by the members of the town as an oddity that Margot has to take care of out of sisterly obligation. That is until Margot is murdered in her needlecraft shop one night, leaving Betsy to try to solve the murder, keep the shop running, and deal with small town life.

I won’t go further in terms of details because that would spoil the fun. I will say that Ferris has a sharp eye for very funny one-liners and draws convincing and very human characters. I lived in a small town in the Midwest for a year, while on an academic fellowship, and Ferris’ descriptions of how everyone knows everyone’s business in a small town are spot on. Small rural towns are odd that way, and I remember being shocked myself about how much people knew about my comings and goings when I lived in one. (My dog had a surgery that year and I remember that when I would walk very slowly with her while she was recovering people would stop me as say “Is that the little dog that Dr So-and-So operated on? I hear she is walking again and that he did a great job!” These would be people I did not know and it sort of amazed me how the ENTIRE TOWN of 5000 people  knew that my dog had knee surgery-I grew up in a huge city, so small town life was very different to me. Actually, at times it could be a shock.) Ferris also picks up on the small, petty feuds that develop over time in a small town and how the needlecraft shop served as one of the centers of gossip and activity in the town itself (and yes the town I lived in for that year had a needlecraft shop. And yes it was always bustling with gossip and people, as everyone would sit with their doughnuts and knitting and talk about who died, who was divorcing who, who had a baby, etc.) Also my guess is that Ferris must have modeled her book’s shop on one of the massive and frankly, awesome, needlecraft shops in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. I know this because I was up in the area this past summer and stopped at a few of the shops.  Let me tell you, Minnesota does yarn shops right. Really, I have never seen so many  amazing shops in one general area.

The plot is a bit pat, but the depictions of small-town life, the knowledge of the crafts and the well drawn characters more than make up for it in this book. A pleasant and comforting read for anyone in the needlearts, plus its fun to see if you can guess who the murderer is.  It was, as L had suggested, exactly the kind of book to read when one is feeling crummy and the brain is a bit mushy. Recommended for lovers of mysteries, especially those involving the needlearts.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C

P.S. For those of you who don’t know, “Crewel” is a form of embroidery done with wool.

We suffer because of the way we are.

Back where C and I did our graduate studies, the name of Wendell Berry was often invoked, at least in some of the circles I ran in.  Despite his ubiquitous presence, I had never read a word by him.  Because of the contexts in which I heard the name, I typically associated him with essays advocating for agrarianism and sustainable agriculture.  I discovered in looking for something by him to read that he is also a novelist, and so I decided to pick up his first novel, Nathan Coulter, because it met one of my requirements (or at least preferences) for reading during the school year: it’s short.

The book is a coming of age tale told from the perspective of the title character.  The Coulters work on a tobacco farm in rural Kentucky, and their life evinces the joys, fears, and tensions that mark most families.  Early on in the story, Nathan and his brother (whom he normally refers to as “Brother” rather than his name “Tom”) lose their mother to an illness.  Because their father can’t raise them and till the land on his own, they move to the next farm over to live with their grandparents and uncle.  The story develops a number of themes, but the one that struck me was that of Nathan’s continually changing relationships with each of his family members, as well as the inner dynamics of the Coulter family in general.  These dynamics strain under the difficulties most families face: sibling rivalry, the desire to strike out on one’s own, transitions, death.  Through it all Nathan learns how much his family means to him, as well as the fragility of day-to-day life.

For the first chapter or so, I had a hard time getting into the novel, perhaps because it was somewhat foreign to my experience.  A product of late twentieth century suburbia, I initially had a hard time relating to the rural way of life Berry describes.  But gradually he won me over.  His writing style has an elegant simplicity that reflects the pace and values of a simpler time.  Moreover, at points Berry writes with poignancy about the difficulty of moving on.  One paragraph toward the end of the story particularly moved me.  Upon realizing that Brother has left for good and will not be coming home to stay, Nathan reflects:

“I could have cried myself.  Brother was gone, and he wouldn’t be back.  And things that had been so before never would be so again.  We were the way we were; nothing could make us any different, and we suffered because of it.  Things happened to us the way they did because we were ourselves.  And if we’d been other people it wouldn’t have mattered… we’d have had to suffer whatever it was that they suffered because they were themselves.  And there was nothing anybody could do but let it happen.”

Despite the somewhat depressing tone of this passage, Berry also highlights the simple joys of time with family, but almost always with a reminder of their fleetingness.  I suppose what I took away from the book is the importance of savoring precious moments with friends and family, because before we know it, they’ll be gone.  Not a bad reminder.

Eight down, (at least) forty-four to go.