The Goodbye Quilt
by Susan Wiggs

Mira, 2011. ISBN 978-0-778-32996-1.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 08/27/2012

Fiction: Mainstream

Any mother of a daughter will find something to relate to in this sweet, introspective novel. The primary setting is the ancient family Suburban station wagon as mother and daughter travel from western Wyoming to some undisclosed top-notch university near Norman Rockefeller's home in Massachusetts. Linda Davis's daughter Molly, an only child, was awarded a full scholarship to this august institution, but is torn at having to leave Trevor, her first true love, who is a union worker in the log home factory in their small community.

Half the book consists of Linda's internal narrative. She alternates debating the wisdom of speaking to Molly or telling her personal stories versus biting her tongue. with reflecting back on memories, hopes and dreams, most of which are not shared, to avoid making Molly feel pressured about her own situation (or giving her further ammunition for debating her cause). When she isn't fretting about Molly's future and her relationship with Trevor, Linda grapples with the issue of how she will build a new life for herself now that Molly has left, how she will connect in new ways with her husband Dan and the fate of her favorite quilting shop.

Most of the reflections are prompted by pieces of the "Goodbye" memory quilt Linda works on as Molly drives. It is intended as a memento of Molly's girlhood, and Linda has resolved to finish the quilting and final embellishments during the six days of travel.

Wiggs did a masterful job of writing Linda real. Real women do obsess that way. They do make decisions to hide or reveal personal stories. They do feel knives turn in their souls when, for example, they must tell the rest of the story behind why they didn't have more children. They do bite their tongues off to avoid setting off a young and arrogant daughter who knows absolutely everything at age 18. And they don't generally talk about all these things. I loved that aspect of the book.

What Wiggs did not do at all well was write the trip real. Things simply do not square with the actual route they had to have taken. On one page she may describe changing lanes and moving along Interstate ramps, but a few pages later they'll be in a situation that could only take place on country lanes. Then they are seamlessly, without explanation, back on the Interstate. She speaks of it being "a hundred miles to the next city" when they are driving through a mid-western state. They made a lunch stop at a state park on the shore of Lake Ontario. That would be at least fifty miles each direction out of their way.

Wiggs is obviously not a serious quilter. Neither am I, but I do know that you don't casually stitch several word thoughts onto a quilt in about the time it would take to write them with a pen, and I do know that you don't constantly pick up and put down a twin bed-sized quilt. It would be filthy if it were dragged around as she did, clumsy to work on in the car and park benches, and hard to control tiny stitches in a moving car.

I'm disappointed when popular, high-volume authors are cavalier with facts. At least the book was well edited, with no typos or layout errors. In spite of her disregard for the factual aspect of her craft, I love the heart of her story, and people who either know nothing about geography or easily grant creative license to heartwarming authors will love this book without hesitation.

Read an excerpt from this book.

#1 New York Times Bestselling author Susan Wiggs lives on an island in Puget Sound and commutes to her writers' group in a seventeen foot motorboat. She has received three RITA Awards and numerous starred reviews from Publishers Weekly. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Visit her website.

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