Monday, December 13

Circle of Quilters - Jennifer Chiaverini

As two of the Elm Creek Quilters leave for new journeys, a significant gap has opened in the groups’ teaching roster. The Quilters agree that they need to hire people whose skills complement those of the remaining members, and whose personalities and priorities fit the culture of Elm Creek. The response to their advertisement is promising, with applicants from across the country, promising a broad range of teaching experience and quilting skills. As those on the short list visit Elm Creek for interview, tensions within the group emerge.
In a departure from Chiaverini’s usual style, Circle of Quilters opens with the story of the first prospective addiction to the group, care worker Maggie Flynn, from her arrival at Ocean View Hills Retirement Community and Convalescent Center to her post-interview departure, certain her performance was woeful. As Maggie leaves she bumps into a young woman dressed in a suit, dragging two small children along, which is how we meet Karen.
In each section the narrative starts with an applicant, tracing her or (in one case) his journey through quilting and through life to the point of interview, through the interview and transitions to the next. It was well done, surprisingly effective, and left me having trouble deciding which of the five very different applicants – Maggie, Karen, Anna, Russell and Gretchen – should get the two available places.
Each character has a compelling story and a strong, but different, reason for wanting to move to Pennsylvania and focus on quilting. And the novel also portrays how taking a decisive move, regardless of its success, can impel change in different areas – the process of application and interview changes all five people’s lives.
Chiaverini creates novels that have a balanced mix of character and plot, with both elements finely tuned. The characters are complex, flawed, capable of change, and real. The plots are primarily domestically based, as is the life of most of us, and Chiaverini explores the drama and power of ordinary lives, particularly in traditionally female arenas. I was on occasion reminded of Berg’s novels which, though quite different in tenor, similarly highlight the extraordinary in the lives of ordinary women. I know nothing at all of quilting, but that has in no way diminished my interest in this series. - Alex

The Elm Creek Quilt series:
1. The Quilter's Apprentice
2. Round Robin
3. The Cross-Country Quilters
The Runaway Quilt
5. The Quilter's Legacy
The Master Quilter
7. The Sugar Camp Quilt
8. The Christmas Quilt
9. Circle of Quilters
10. The Quilter's Homecoming
11. The New Year's Quilt
12. The Winding Ways Quilt
13. The Quilter's Kitchen

14. The Lost Quilter
15. A Quilter's Holiday
16. The Aloha Quilt

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