Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnik

At first I hated this book; then I made peace with it; then I started to enjoy it. Not normally a reader of chick lit — which this book’s bright, colorful cover proclaims it to be — I now realize I got off on the wrong foot by allowing myself be irritated by its many implausibilities. The cover illustration is of a cocktail in a martini glass, which perhaps made me expect something strong and intoxicating, but once I realized it was less of a martini than something lighter — a gin fizz, perhaps — I started to relax, and the book began to feel like a treat.

Kathleen, Sari, and Lucy, three twentysomething L.A. women, get together every Sunday morning to knit, drink coffee, and gossip about their lives. Kathleen is tall, funny, athletic, and irresponsible; accustomed to living a life of luxury thanks to her movie-star twin sisters, she now works as an assistant in a big corporation and is looking to snag a millionaire. Clever Lucy, a scientist who spends her working life in a lab, used to be heavy in high school, but you wouldn’t know it now, since she hardly ever eats a thing. And cute, sensible Sari, having grown up with an autistic brother, devotes herself to helping children with special needs. (LaZebnik, herself the mother of a son with autism, is the author, along with Lynn Kern Koegel, PhD, of the book Overcoming Autism, published in 2004).

Those who feel compelled to defend books like this often evoke the name of Jane Austen as a touchstone, and it’s certainly true that Knitting Under the Influence is reminiscent of Austen’s novels in the sense that the Right Man is hanging around sheepishly in the background of these three women’s lives all along — it’s just a question of them coming to notice him, and to acknowledge his true worth. In Austen’s novels, however, our perspective is rather more circumscribed, in that we, too, fail to appreciate the hero’s strengths at first; we, too, come to appreciate them gradually, at the same pace as the heroine, which is also how we begin to acknowledge the false hero’s flaws. But in Knitting Under the Influence, three very obvious Mr. Rights are staring us in the face all along, and it seems rather surprising our three heroines can’t see them, blinded as they are by their need for sex (Lucy), money (Kathleen) and vengeance (Sari). Kathleen hooks a millionaire who buys her jewelry from Tiffany’s, though he does seems rather dull and self-involved, unlike her suave, no-nonsense upstairs neighbor who cooks eggs just the way she likes them. Lucy is dating a sexy scientist, but he seems callow and self-righteous compared to her quiet, thoughtful lab partner who buys her an adorable kitten. And Sari is trying hard to resist the charming, handsome, devoted father of an autistic child — all because she remembers him teasing her brother at high school.

Without wanting to seem picky, some elements of the book rubbed on my nerves. Knitting Under the Influence is set in LA, and the girls live separate, scattered lives, but the way they seem to drop in on one another all the time, they could be living in Melrose Place (and why is no-one ever stuck in traffic?). It remains unclear why the gorgeous Kathleen, with her rich family and celebrity twin sisters, has come to be so close to Sari and Lucy; they seem to have little in common except their shared interest in knitting, which becomes a useful but rather obvious motif, a means by which the author can both bind the three girls together and show the differences between them at the same time.

But these inconsistencies became less and less important the more absorbed I became in the book, and the more I learned to accept its premises. No, of course, this isn’t the world we live in, this world of sunshine, gossip, cocktails (there are recipes at the end!), hot guys, loyal girlfriends, and the cheery click-clack of knitting needles — but you can’t help wishing it were. In short, the pleasure of Knitting Under the Influence is the pleasure of watching the plot unfold and the players go through their paces in a story that has no surprises except how enjoyable it is to read.