Sunday, May 31, 2020

Weekend Review: The Dress in the Window

The Dress in the Window / Sofia Grant
NY: William Morrow, c2017
357 p.
I picked up this book in a sale a while back, for obvious reasons! The cover is lovely, and the story follows two sisters who sew and design clothing -- the back blurb makes it sound like they do this together as a business, which I kept waiting for while reading, but it doesn't exactly turn out that way.

WWII has just ended, and Peggy Brink and her sister Jeanne are now living with Peggy's mother-in-law -- Peggy's husband Thomas and Jeanne's fiance Charles (a real rotter) were both killed in the war. Their parents are both dead as well, and they are all so short of money that they've combined forces. Peggy also has a little girl Tommie, who is a strong-willed child who Peggy finds hard to deal with.

It had the setup for a great story. But for me, it turned out to be a so-so story in the end. 

What I liked about it:

At the beginning of each section, a fabric type is described, rather as a metaphor for the upcoming action. But it was also a delight to read these paragraphs that dig into fabric itself. Also, it is clear that the author sews. She understands details and describes the action of sewing correctly, and with that joy that many sewists feel and experience with fabric in hand. Also the frustrations though! 

Jeanne sews and makes over clothing, and it's a pleasure to read those passages. Peggy designs and draws, and ends up with a job in a department store that gives her the opportunity to design her own line. The part in the department store reminded me of Madeleine St John's Women in Black, and it was a great storyline. I'd have been happy to have that element fleshed out as the entire book.

However. What I didn't like about it -- the characters, the writing style overall, the weak, weak ending. 

Most of the time when I read fiction, I'm drawn to a story because of writing and characterization. So this one didn't quite meet my readerly needs. The three characters, Jeanne, Peggy and Thelma, are well conceived, but their interactions are clumsy and unnecessarily fraught with secrets and hurt feelings to keep the story flowing. It got tiresome. 

And the drama! Oh my goodness, each chapter has some big drama - Jeanne has the kind of scare that no single woman wanted at that time; Thelma is revealed to have been having a string of lovers; Peggy doesn't like being a mother! Thelma is sick (secretly of course); the girls' uncle has been keeping their inheritance from them!

Peggy's ambition was to design clothing; she gets her wish. She's extremely successful and happy. But the other two, and society itself, guilt her into giving it all up to take care of Tommie. Who already has a grandmother and aunt who dote on her and are taking care of her, and could use the income that Peggy is making. 

After making a huge deal of Peggy's ambition and rise, the ending falls very flat indeed. Is Peggy then to become one of the women to be shortly written about in Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique? A disappointing ending never leaves a good impression of a book. 

So, there are parts that make this readable, especially for sewists. But the whole book doesn't quite hang together, for me. If you're particularly fond of post WWII American settings you may find it a little more interesting than I did.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, it seems like such a promising book. Not sure that I care to read it after your review :) but thanks for reading and reviewing!


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