The Friday Night Knitting Club is one of those books that fits very comfortably in the “women’s fiction” niche — commercial rather than literary, but much better-crafted than most genre fiction. Heartwarming, tear-jerking, and just a teensy bit formulaic, this novel was an enjoyable read but not one I’ll be stirred to read again.
It’s the story of Georgia Walker, a single mom in New York City who owns a knitting shop. Georgia has a twelve-year-old daughter, a mentor-like older friend who helps out in the shop, a former best friend who treated her badly years ago and has now reappeared, and an ex-lover who also treated her badly and has also reappeared wanting a place in her life. Frankly, that would be enough of a cast for a novel of this scope, but Jacobs also throws in the women of the titular knitting club that meets at Georgia’s store, and this is where I think she goes a little overboard, cramming too many storylines into a novel that can’t quite bear the weight.
I ran across an online review while I was reading this that, without giving away too many details, said the ending was “depressing,” so I was braced for something bad to happen at the end, and something bad does happen. Don’t go into this expecting a typically happy ending.
(warning: spoilers ahead. Click at your own risk if you intend to read this book!)
I’ve said the novel is a little bit formulaic but Jacobs does transgress the conventions of typical commercial women’s fiction a little at the end here and allow something sadder to happen than you would expect from the first three-quarters of the novel. Partway through the novel, the main character, Georgia, starts experiencing symptoms that novelists typically use to subtly let us know that a woman is pregnant. Except that we’ve already learned Georgia hasn’t seen any action in quite awhile, so the canny reader suspects something else is wrong. Georgia has ovarian cancer, and you don’t have to have been around the block too much to know it’s hard to pull a happy ending out of that diagnosis.
Killing off your main character is a risky move. Jacobs manages it by having Georgia’s inspiring life and relatively gentle death imbue everyone around her with hope and meaning. The focus is on the other characters — how they have all been touched and changed by knowing her. I didn’t feel depressed at the end, but I’m still not sure whether this is because Jacobs handled Georgia’s death so well, or because I had never become emotionally invested enough in the character to really care about her death.
The Friday Night Knitting Club is a good novel that will hold your attention, but it’s not riveting or brilliant, and you should be prepared for the downer ending. Jacobs still manages to pull off the requisite inspiring and life-affirming note at the end, but it comes at a high cost, and some readers may not find it worth the sacrifice.