Thursday, January 18, 2007

[Book Review] THE QUILTER'S APPRENTICE by Jennifer Chiaverini


Jessie Marshall reviews THE QUILTER'S APPRENTICE: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

In this first book of The Elm Creek Quilts series, the reader is introduced to Sarah and Matt McClure, who have just moved to the small college town of Waterford, Pennsylvania in order for Matt to start his new job with a landscaping firm. While Sarah previously worked in accounting, she is now hoping to find a more interesting job. Unfortunately, her interviews have not gone well, and she is becoming discouraged. On the other hand, Matt has just landed the challenging task of restoring the grounds and gardens of Elm Creek Manor, a large estate which has fallen into disrepair. The home was recently inherited by Mrs. Sylvia Compson, a seventy-five year old widow who grew up on the estate but who is now fixing up the property in order to sell it.

While Sarah continues the search for full time employment, Matt secures a temporary job for her helping Mrs. Compson organize and ready the large family home for its upcoming sale. At first, Mrs. Compson’s formal, fastidious demeanor makes Sarah uncomfortable, but their relationship begins to deepen and soften after Sarah discovers that Mrs. Compson is a master quilter. Sarah asks for part of her wages to be in the form of quilting lessons. The widow agrees and starts Sarah out with a sampler quilt, one made up of individual blocks from many different quilt patterns.

As the story unfolds, the friendship and trust between Sarah and Sylvia grows. With each new pattern block, Mrs. Compson opens up a bit more by telling stories about the family members who used that pattern. When the quilter reaches the point in the story where she reveals her decades-long estrangement from her sister and sister-in-law, Sarah begins to examine her resentment toward her own mother. As she considers reconciliation within her own family, Sarah and the ladies from the local quilting group secretly execute a plan to help Mrs. Compson resolve regrets and heal broken relationships from her past.

The Quilter’s Apprentice is primarily about the value of relationships. The author provides a great deal of interesting information on quilting and quilt patterns while telling the story of friendships between women of different generations. This book will appeal to readers because it contains familiar character types and is leisurely in pace. The story is set in a small town, and the ending provides resolution to the multiple plot lines. The characters do not have a great deal of depth, and the dialog seems awkward at times; however, the subject matter is not explicit or violent in any sense and would certainly not offend.

Jessie Marshall, Business and Science Department

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I loved all the Elm Street Quilters books. This one was a little more tepid, a little harder to get in to, but they're all good reads. They're gentle reads. My favorite of all of them is the one about the Underground Railroad and the log cabin quilts with black, rather than red centers, which indicated a safe house when hung up on a clothesline. The story behind that quilt was fascinating, dramatic, and well-told.
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