Great novelists can envelop you in relatable plot lines that make you feel like you’re part of the story. That’s what Ann Hood, author of the much beloved “The Knitting Circle,” does in her latest, “The Book That Matters Most.” Even before you read the first page, the title has you pondering what book has had the biggest impact on your life. The provocative question inspires a book club’s reading choices during the novel’s yearlong timeline.
Ava North, when the novel opens, has just joined the club that meets monthly at her local library in Providence, R.I. After 2½ decades of marriage, Ava is single. The local yarn bomber has stolen her husband, and although a year has passed, Ava is no closer to emotional recovery. Joining the book club, she hopes, will get her back in circulation.
At the first meeting Ava attends, book club members are asked to lead monthly discussions on the most important book in their lives. For some, it’s classic titles including “Pride and Prejudice,” “Anna Karenina” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” No one has heard of “From Claire to Here,” the book that Ava chooses. It’s especially significant to Ava because she read it countless times as a child after her younger sister died in a tragic accident and then, a year later, her mother apparently committed suicide. Ava even goes so far as to tell the group that the author, Rosalind Arden, will attend one of their meetings.
But Ava doesn’t even know how to contact Arden or even if she’s alive. There’s no mention of her on social media, and no copies of the book seem to exist. Finding Arden is at the crux of this novel as much as is Ava’s struggle to get her life on track.
Juxtaposed against Ava’s story is one about her college-age daughter Maggie, who has gone AWOL. She’s living in Paris, where she becomes the drug-addicted mistress of a much older man. Her story and Ava’s will come full circle in the City of Lights. If you love to wrap yourself in a happily-ever-after-story, this book is for you. You will sigh with delight at the book’s most satisfying conclusion.
Hood’s novel is as much about the healing power of books as it about a struggling woman and her equally dysfunctional daughter. In one scene, Ava looks at her book club friends and marvels as their “voices rise in their love of books. The sight of them all filled Ava with a warmth and comfort she had not felt in a long time.” “The Book That Matters Most” will make you feel the same way.
Carrol Memmott, former books editor for USA Today, also reviews books for the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.
The Book That Matters Most
By: Ann Hood.
Publisher: W.W. Norton, 358 pages, $25.95.