Tag Archives: inspirational novel

The Secret Lives of Dresses

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean (5 Spot; $13.99; 304 pages)

Don’t be fooled by the naive feeling that permeates this novel at the outset.   The main character is twenty-year-old Dora Winston and her perspective on life shapes the story.   Dora, an orphan, was raised by her beloved paternal grandmother, Mimi Winston, who is a widow.   Their relationship affects the way Dora sees the world and is the basis for her intensely personal sense of values.   Dora’s parents died in an automobile crash when she was just a baby.   So Mimi is her whole family.

The reader is introduced to Dora as she is rushing to the hospital where Mimi is being treated for a stroke.   The stroke renders Mimi helpless and her doctors are on alert for any signs of consciousness.   The circumstances of Mimi’s stroke could be seen as devastating and yet, author McKean somehow manages to morph the story into a classic example of catastrophe = opportunity.

Dora steps up and chooses to keep her grandmother’s vintage women’s clothing store open for business, taking time away in the evenings to visit the hospital.   The clothing is not used in the sense of being secondhand; rather, each dress has a unique provenance.   Although the novel is not a mystery, there is a mysterious quality to McKean’s portrayal of the characters.   This reviewer wanted to know more about them and their lives.   There is a wide range for these characters which sets up good contrasts among contemporaries such as Dora and her cousin Tyffannee or Mimi and Gabby, her housemate.

Through trial and error Dora learns to maintain an open mind permitting her to see the world around her in an unfiltered manner.   She compares her inner hopes and dreams, or the lack thereof, with what’s actually possible.   Due to the wide variety of ages portrayed, McKean keeps her story from being typecast as a young adult book.   The maturity exhibited by Dora is a refreshing change from the self-centered way many twenty-somethings appear to behave on TV and in the movies.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Tragedy

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Random House; $15.00; 352 pages)

“Most of our fears are petty and small…  Only our love is monumental.”

In Every Last One, author Anna Quindlen gives us a monumental – yet quietly reserved – look at the life of a typical American family, before and after the family is rocked by an unimaginable tragedy.   This is the story of Mary Beth Latham, a basically stay-at-home mom who operates a landscaping business; her ophthalmologist husband, Glen; daughter Ruby; and her fraternal twin sons, Max and Alex.   Although we observe their lives through Mary Beth’s eyes, we come to know Ruby the best.   She’s a senior in high school who is about to leave the nest for a yet-to-be determined college.

Mary Beth at one point ponders whether it is a woman’s role to persevere after everyone she loves has left her.   But she thinks about this at a time when everyone she loves remains close to her.   This is when she’s the woman who worries about the smallest of concerns, when her life goes on as normal.   But normal is not lasting…

Daughter Ruby has known her friend Kiernan since childhood, and he becomes obsessed with her and all of the Lathams.   Kiernan comes to become less of a boyfriend to Ruby than a stalker, and someone who uses any excuse to keep company with the Latham family.   Ruby realizes that she’s going to have to reject Kiernan soon – and before she departs for her future life.

When tragedy strikes Mary Beth must become a survivor.   Everyone around her fails at offering comfort; instead, they impose their expectations on her as to how they believe she should act.   The people she worked so hard to please, to impress, to be close to all let her down.

Eventually Mary Beth comes to see – as we all must – that she cannot live her life in a manner that pleases others.   She simply must continue, even if the reasons for doing so are not clear.

“It’s all I know how to do.   This is my life.   I am trying.”

It is impossible to describe the nature of the calamity that Mary Beth experiences without betraying the story, and this summary does not disclose it.   Suffice it to say that when it occurs the reader will think the narrative is over.   In the hands of a less skilled writer it would be.   But Quindlen is at her best in writing the tale of a woman who is strong when the world believes she has been stripped of her heart and her soul.

“The silence is as big as the sky…”

Author Quindlen teaches the reader that life is not predictable, that one must be prepared to start over at any time.   It is, after all, the nature of every life.   Life, for better or worse, every year, month, day, and each and every minute.   It is all to be treasured, and readers may come to justifiably treasure this impressive work from the subtly gifted mind and pen of Anna Quindlen.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Every Last One will be released in trade paperback form on Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

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