What are you reading on this fine Memorial Day Weekend? Something light and flirty? Something heavier that you're trying to finish before summer really kicks in? Or nothing but the Bar-B-Q Bible, trying to find the perfect way to grill that chicken and kielbasa...?
This week I read Ann Hood's latest novel, THE RED THREAD. I had bought the hardcover for my mother-in-law for mother's day, along with tickets for the two of us to go hear her speak at a literary breakfast. She loved the book and dropped it off last Sunday for me to read. I polished it off during the week, in the car while waiting in line at Parent Pickup at school, or in the waiting room at the doctor's office, on the bench at the playground while my daughter made new friends, and in the parking lot of the soccer practice field.
This is a heart-wrenching story, in the same way that her prior book THE KNITTING CIRCLE tugged hard at your emotions. If you don't like sad books, don't read this. Ann Hood writes grief and regret from a place deep within her own emotional core, having been through the depths of hell with the sudden death of her own 5-year-old daughter.
But where THE KNITTING CIRCLE left me sad, this new book left me feeling hopeful.
The main character is Maya Lange, owner of The Red Thread Adoption Agency in Providence, Rhode Island. She battles her own inner demons throughout the book, even as she outwardly appears to be the picture of composure to all the other characters, helping each of the others fight their personal battles.
The chapters are broken up in a funny way, but you get used to it fairly quickly. Each section focuses on one of the characters, whether it's one of the mothers in China and her reasons for leaving her baby on the steps of the orphanage, or one of the families waiting to adopt a little girl from China, or Maya herself, as we follow a specific group through their year of waiting for their adoption paperwork to go through.
Each story is different. Each mother in China is forced to make this heartbreaking decision for slightly different reasons. Each woman in America ends up at the adoption agency for varying reasons as well. We get to know each one, and cheer for them all when the babies are finally placed in their arms at the end.
The story of the Red Thread is an old Chinese proverb, which says that each of us has an invisible red thread of destiny, tying us to each person who will be important in our lives, binding people together in unusual and undeniable ways.
Ann Hood herself adopted a baby from China. At the literary breakfast, she told the audience how when the call came from the adoption agency, she was told "her baby" was born on the same date that her daughter had died. She balked. She told her husband she couldn't see herself baking cupcakes and celebrating anything on That Particular day out of all the days in the year.
She also told us that when her daughter recently turned 5, she found herself baking cupcakes with a yard full of kindergarten classmates and balloons and streamers... and she said she could see that red thread, connecting her to her new daughter as well as to the one who had been taken from her by illness. Her voice choked up as she related this part of her narrative, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the room.
My recommendation? If Ann Hood is coming to a bookstore or library near you, go listen to her speak. Her story, her words in person, make her books seem even more heart-wrenching. And if you like books that bring tears to your eyes, definitely read THE RED THREAD.