Susan Wiggs’ latest, The Oysterville Sewing Circle (William Morrow), is billed as a novel about domestic violence, but it is also a love story – and not the sturdy love between our protagonist Caroline Shelby and Will Jensen, her handsome, long-time childhood crush.
Underneath the more obvious storyline is the emerging love for two sweet little kids that Caroline, the career-obsessed fashionista who has sworn she’d never have children, finds growing in her heart, crowding out almost everything else. That love drives the plotline, creating a gentle, safe place when things get grave.
Wiggs has taken on the ugly job of talking about the brutality many women endure at the hands of men who profess to love them. Domestic abuse is one of society’s ill-kept secrets. Neighbors turn up the volume of their televisions to drown out weeping and angry voices; if the fighting happens in public, passers-by turn their heads, giving the couple privacy. No one wants to intervene; hence, the women are left with their feelings of shame and inadequacy and hopelessness; men, with a sense of power and invincibility.
Too often, the focus is on the victims: their fear, their addictive vulnerability and inability to escape. Society has taught them that there must be something wrong with them, and so they keep quiet; they endure.
Our protagonist stumbles into a ghastly situation of abuse, but unlike most observers, Caroline cannot turn her head. Already unhinged by career betrayal and disaster, she gathers up the detritus – which includes Flick and Addie, who are six and five years old, respectively – and heads out west from New York City to her tiny hometown on tip of a skinny peninsula off the coast of Washington state.
Here Wiggs gives us another kind of love affair. Although Caroline couldn’t get out of town fast enough when she was younger, she can’t help the burn of nostalgia and comfort that going home ignites. Wiggs paints an irresistible picture of raw skies, an undulating ocean, pristine beaches, driftwood, flocks of birds, and weathered wooden buildings. In spite of herself, Caroline falls in love with her old home. She’s welcomed back by everyone without reservation, but this is not what Caroline had envisioned for herself. Two kids that are not hers, no job, no future and no plan. “I’m drowning,” she sighs.
How Caroline manages to sew together her talent as a clothing designer, her unexpected role as mother of two, and her dashed dreams is the stuff of Wiggs’s newest novel. Caroline realizes that she needs to listen to what other women tell her, and with that, she learns that women need to talk. Good things come from shared confidences and advice. Ostensibly a little club where women can make clothes for their families, the Oysterville Sewing Circle becomes the safe place where the women of Oysterville can talk about their darkest secrets. Suddenly, Caroline has a cause, accompanied by acceptance, a new direction, love, and a plan at last. She’s no longer drowning, and she’s able to throw out lifelines to women who need it.
In a perfect world, every town would have an Oysterville Sewing Circle. No. In a perfect world, Wiggs makes clear, no town would need one.
The Oysterville Sewing Circle is now available.
About Susan Wiggs
Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She lives at the water’s edge on an island in Puget Sound, and in good weather, she commutes to her writers’ group in a 21-foot motorboat. Her husband is an award-winning apparel designer who has his own line of made-in-America kids’ adventure wear.
Susan has been featured in the national media, including NPR and USA Today, has given programs for the US Embassies in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and is a popular speaker locally, nationally, internationally, and on the high seas. Her novels have appeared in the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List, and have captured readers’ hearts around the globe. She is a three-time winner of the RITA Award, the highest honor given for a work of romantic fiction. Her recent novel, The Apple Orchard, is currently being made into a film, and the Lakeshore Chronicles are being developed into a series.
Susan is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book.