Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilting Series narrated by Christina Moore

It is not unusual for women’s books to lay out women in groups, like a plate of madeleines, a silver tray of cream cakes. But this circle of quilters is not a dainty or delicate array.

Chiaverini quilts stories about a dozen or so women who quilt, whose separate lives come together accidentally and on purpose at Elm Creek quilting camp, where women welcome women into an American tradition. Chiaverini’s women are full-bodied, irregular, problematic. Each one has stories full of children or mothers; Diane, for example, who shows up at the police station to bail out her son:

Well. it certainly does my heart good to know that the citizens of Waterford are being protected so heroically from skateboarders. Now if only you could do something about all those thieves and murderers and terrorists running loose, now I would be really impressed.

Diane is smart and sarcastic and argumentative, Sylvia is a grand old dame and a master quilter, Summer is a sleek hippy daughter of a single feminist academic, Judy is a practical, organized, rational type, Bonnie   industrious and busy shopowner-housewife, Sarah, the bitchy domestic manager   and co founder of the quilting camp. After eight quilting books, these characters are solid evidentiary structures and Elm Creek is a well elaborated structure of the imagination: safe, supportive, creative, cozy. It is problematic and fun. As fun as a summer camp for big girls who love little pieces of cloth.

It is of course the problems of everyday life that are shared among the quilters, not just the piecing and sewing and binding and basting.Perhaps  there is a kinship between these ladies and the medieval craftswomen or ‘spinsters’ who (like the wife of Bath) were good at ‘deceit, weeping and spinning’. Somehow, this medieval picture of women and textiles and discourse is comforting to female readers in 2010.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik Performed by Ruth Ann Phimister, Christine Mcmurdo Wallis, Christina Moore, Kate Forbes and James Jenner

Four narrators read back to back the recollections of five ‘Angry Housewives’ in Minnesota. Each voice adds to the prism of personalities which reflects how different five women sound from one another, even when they are reading the same books.

Unlike the women in Mary McCarthy’s The Group,  which was perhaps the first of this type of novel about women in a group, the housewives do not show the marks of a common institution. Marriage and motherhood are not finishing schools.

Although the story spans across three decades, this is not a history told through women or through books.  The Angry Housewives is a book club, but the books are pretexts for meeting and talking and eating and feeling and being.

And speaking. But narrators rarely get credit for being there. Not the narrators of this book, either. No mention on the CDs or the book cover or the Recorded Books web site of Ruth Ann Phimister, Christine McMurdo Wallis, Christina Moore, Kate Forbes and James Jenner. How very mean.