Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Lost Quilter: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini

Remember back in the day when you would crawl up on your grandma's lap (insert other relevant adult figure here), get comfortable, look up and say, Tell me a story? And grandma would settle in and tell you about her life as a child, or her experiences at work. Some days the story was infinitely familiar; you could have filled in details that grandma missed that day. Other days the story was startlingly fresh and new: "I never knew you jumped out of an airplane grandma?" And once in a while grandma told a story that didn't particularly catch your attention. But no matter what, you loved the stories because it was grandma telling them and she had a certain cadence and rhythm to storytelling that you admired. And the stories were familiar and warm.

Jennifer Chiaverini's novels are like listening to grandma tell a story. When you pick up one of her books you want to curl up on the couch with a cozy quilt (of course), a cup of hot chocolate, and a sweet treat and read from beginning to end. There are only a few authors I have found who have that quality and I will always pick their books immediately off my shelf because I know I will enjoy reading them.

The Lost Quilter is no exception. The story, like all the Elm Creek Quilts novels, splinters off from the basic narrative of Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, master quilter and founder of a quilting haven in Pennsylvania. The stories jump back and forth in time through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, but always return to the foundational contemporary characters. This particular book picks up where the plot of The Runaway Quilt left off. Only in this novel, Joanna, a runaway slave who had found a haven at the Bergstrom farm in pre-Civil War slavery America, is the main character.

I will say, this was not one of my favorite quilt books. I prefer the stories that spend more time with the contemporary characters - in this novel they only make an appearance during the prologue and the epilogue. In addition, I felt that Chiaverini could have focused more attention on the quilts - always integral characters in her books. I understand why they did not play a significant role in this story, but I missed that aspect of the plot. Despite my minimal frustrations, I found myself putting the book down with tears in my eyes. Chiaverini has a great way of pulling at the heartstrings without being overly dramatic or sentimental.

If you are new to Chiaverini, I would strongly encourage you to start from the beginning of the series. It isn't absolutely necessary. However, character development in the course of nearly a dozen books leads to a more nuanced understanding of the interactions between characters. All in all, two big thumbs up.

No comments: