Friday, October 25, 2013

Unsnarling the Strands: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

Mason squinted,. "You certainly are Talented," he told the man.  "Do you..." He searched for his manners. "... sell many knots then?"
"Heavens, no....  It's a horribly useless Talent, tying knots.  But no, I find myself with knot-tying."
"Well, the only knot I've mastered is the one to tie my shoelaces," Mason admitted. "Every other one just looks like a tangled mess to me."
The man in the gray suit thought about that.  "Well, that's the thing about knots, isn't it?" he replied after a moment.  "If you don't know the trick, it's a muddled predicament.  But in fact each loop of every knot is carefully placed, one end twisting right into the other in a way you might not have expected.  I find them rather beautiful, really."

Reading through the twists and turns of Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots (Philomel Books, 2013) is rather like untying a knot.  The strands seem hopeless enmeshed, each one disappearing into the knot and reappearing later on the other side, but it the reader follows each piece of puzzle through the knot, prying it from the mass, the individual threads appear.

In Graff's tangled plot, an slightly off-kilter world appears, one in which most people have a special Talent. Orphan Cady's Talent is making the perfect cake to please anyone she meets. Miss Mallory, the head of her children's home, has the Talent to intuit the proper adoptive parents for her charges, with the exception of Cady, which is why she is the sole resident as the story begins. Neighbor Dolores Asher, whose Talent is knitting, fast and fabulously, has three children--Will, whose questionable Talent is for getting lost, Zane, whose only occasionally useful Talent is spitting, and Marigold, one of the Fair, those who are still waiting for their Talents to appear. Then there are the sinister Owner of the Lost Luggage Emporium, who has the Talent to float above the ground, and as is soon revealed, a more sinister Talent for stealing others' Talents, which he keeps in a collection of canning jars, and his kindly delivery man Toby, who is both lonely and Talent-less.

Add to these strands a sometimes-toothpick, sometimes-hairpin, sometimes-priceless dinosaur bone, four vintage baby blue suitcases, the lost recipe for the world's most delicious peanut butter, and the mysterious man in the gray suit who sometimes travels by hot-air balloon with a grin that suggests he knows more about the world than he is letting on, and author Graff has a tangle of beautiful loops to unwind as each person's fate is realized as the knots are undone.  Like untangling a knot, following the twists and turns and loops of this plot take full focus from the reader, but this enchanted knot is well-worth the unwinding for readers who prefer their fantasies populated not by monsters and spirits, but by real persons trying to reconcile their fates with  their own purposes--and finally sorting themselves out to be what they were meant to be all along.

"The magic of Savvy meets the complexity of When You Reach Me in this "blithe magical puzzle," says The Wall Street Journal, citing the notable books by Ingrid Law and Rebecca Stead. Kirkus'  starred review says, "Subtle and intricate, rich with humor and insight, this quietly magical adventure delights."  And as an additional incentive, author Graff includes her well-tested recipes for each of Cady's undeniably delicious-sounding cakes.

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