One of the first clues that A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (Philomel Books) was going to be an unusual story was the revelation in the first pages that some people are Talented, with a capital “T.”
As the story progresses the author reveals that being Talented is more than just being good at something; it is a special power. But Talents come in many, often funny forms. It can be knitting excessively, or spitting with great accuracy, or baking or even folding a piece of paper twelve times.
Much of the action in A Tangle of Knots centers on a lost luggage emporium owned and operated by a grumpy old man with a lot of secrets. At the beginning of the story the owner rents out some rooms in the emporium.
“The Owner didn’t know it then, but in just one short week, all eight rooms would be filled. Some would be occupied by people with great Talents, others would not. One would house a thief, a person in possession of an object worth millions of dollars. Several would be inhabited by liars. But every last person would have something in common … In just one short week, every last one of them would have lost the thing they treasured most in the world.”
What an enticing set up!
Each chapter tells the story from a different character’s point of view. Many of the chapters are are barely a page long, which gives the story an easy rhythm. The author’s voice creates just enough suspense and mystery that the reader is simply absorbed into the story.
A Tangle of Knots, which set in Poughkeepsie, NY, also features an orphanage run by Miss Mallory. Miss Mallory is Talented at matching children with forever families. She is so good that the children rarely stay long at the orphanage. The exception is Cady, who has lived there for 10 years and has a Talent for baking. How can you not love a character who, when they look at a person, can tell what their favorite cake is?
Cake recipes also are scattered throughout the book, which is a yummy addition. Whether you like to bake or just eat cake it is fun to imagine a lime pound cake, or s’more cake or even Zane’s Garlic Cake, “a cake that’s not as terrible as it seems, on the surface, to be —”
A lot of what happens can’t exactly be explained. For example, a friendly giant of a man keeps showing up, sometimes at a train station, sometimes on a bicycle, sometimes in a hot air balloon. He acts a bit as a catalyst, moving the story in one direction or another. Objects, like a hairpin, a ceramic bird or a certain blue suitcase, disappear and then reappear elsewhere in the story.
This story has so many different, fantastical threads that are braided together in a complex and, for me, deeply satisfying conclusion that the novel left me with a warm and happy feeling in my brain.
This would be a great book to recommend to a young reader who likes books with a sprinkling of magical realism, a reader who likes baking, or a reader who loves ferrets. I’ll leave you to figure out where in the story the ferret appears!