cover image How to Make an American Quilt

How to Make an American Quilt

Whitney Otto / Author Random House Inc $20 (179p) ISBN 978-0-6

Imaginative in concept and execution, Otto's remarkable first novel is designed with deliberate analogies to quilt-making; like the scraps of fabric that make up a quilt, a series of neat vignettes cumulatively reveal the lives of eight members of a woman's sewing group in a small California town, in portraits that include their families and neighbors. Moreover, each chapter is followed by a short set of ``Instructions,'' which provide lucid explanations of the histories, designs and techniques of various quilt patterns that reflect and symbolize the conditions of the characters' lives. The instructions also carry a subtext: assemble and stitch a quilt as you would build and sustain a human relationship. The women who form Otto's narrative quilt include two sisters whose love for each other survives sexual betrayal; a fearless teenager who loses her determination to lead a free, unfettered life when she traps herself into marriage; a half-black woman who cannot escape her heritage; a wife who forgives her husband's flagrant affairs. The economically phrased, intricately designed narrative touches on the larger issues of war, prejudice and the economic condition of women. Concluding with a description of the Crazy Quilt, ``the pattern with the least amount of discipline and the greatest measure of emotion,'' this affecting novel demonstrates that a writer's self-discipline can engender in a reader a significant emotional response. First serial to McCall's; Literary Guild alternate; major ad/promo. (Mar.)