And so, the door at Walker and Daughter was open a little bit late and eventually a little bit later than that. Soon enough, at the end of the long workweek, a few regular customers took to popping in with their knitting -- sweaters and scarves and cell-phone socks -- and asking questions about all the mistakes they'd made while commuting on the subway.
"I just can't get the buttonhole right!"
"Why do I keep dropping stitches?"
"Do you think I can finish it by Christmas?"
Without ever putting up one sign or announcing the creation of a knitting club, these women began regularly appearing in the evenings and, well, loitering. Chatting with one another, talking to Anita, gathering around the large round table in the center of the room, picking up where they had left things the week before. And then, one Friday last fall, it became official. Well, sort of.
~~ The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
If you've ever wondered what good narrative summary looks like, that's it right there, baby. Narrative summary (sometimes also called narrative compression, condensed narrative, summation, transition, etc., etc.) is a variety of exposition that takes events occurring within the story's real time and condenses them into a tight, focused summary.
The events are not narrated in real time. There is no scene in the sense of a singular event presented moment by moment in the order of occurrence. There are characters, but who are they? There is dialogue, but who speaks it? There is a point of view, but no viewpoint character allowing us to experience the events through her perspective.
Instead, a mash of Fridays after work are presented as a circumstance -- not an event -- giving rise to a conclusion. After many (indistinguishable, lumped-together) Fridays at the knitting shop, a club of knitters was created. Not scene and sequel, but situation and result.
A friend gave me this book to read because she was taken by the unusual narrative style and wanted me to see it. (Hi, A! *waves*) I can see why she had the reaction she did. Almost the entire book is presented in some form of exposition, and we just don't see that much these days. Beautifully written, engaging, entertaining exposition. Just when you thought it was buried forever next to the dinosaurs, here it comes back, full of life and breathing fire.
Even though we've been clinging to deep, intimate points of view for a while -- and by "we," I mean readers and authors and industry folk alike -- there have been signs that objectivity was making a comeback. If you've been listening, you've heard those signs right along with me. A reviewer complaining about being bored with first person stories. Two friends at the bookstore, picking up and dropping title after title before agreeing that they all "sound" the same. A book lover raving about a romance, and then adding almost wistfully, "But I kind of wish we'd known more about the parson's wife," or some other character who played a pivotal non-pov role.
Prose has been cozy and intimate for so long that objectivity feels like something totally new. Remember Sherry Thomas's first book, Private Arrangements? Remember how it started with that almost Victorian passage about the definition of a good marriage? Talk about deft writing. That book came out just shortly after Friday Night Knitting Club. And I'm sure if you think about it, you'll quickly identify other stories, or other places in stories, where the viewpoint character isn't immediately identifiable. Or maybe there was a viewpoint from outside the story, as in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or The Crimson Petal and the White, two stories on the more literary end of the spectrum that created narrative distance not through pure objectivity, but through the eyes of a disinterested external narrator.
I'm only on page 80 or so of Friday Night Knitting Club, so it's far too soon to draw any conclusions about the text as a whole. But the text up until this point has been heavy on narrative summary, light on intimacy. There are bits which are firmly rooted in the pov of this or that character, and given the popularity of this book, it seems as though readers are having no trouble connecting to the characters. I am certainly engaged by the text.
Does that seem like an oxymoron? Have we spent so many years flogging the deep pov/show don't tell horse that we've forgotten about other methods to become transported into the narrative?
Don't get me wrong. A solidly crafted limited-subjective third person pov is always going to be an important tool in the writer's kit. It might even be in the top five. But narrative trends come and go, and if the trend is moving toward broader perspectives, then expository writing might just find itself becoming a more important tool.