Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A nice decade to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there

Girls in White Dresses
by Jennifer Close

Reading the jacket copy for Girls in White Dresses, I was expecting a fairly conventional chick lit novel—which is something I enjoy every now and again. However, as I delved into this novel of connected stories (a format I always seem to enjoy), I was delighted to discover something more substantive than I was expecting. Jennifer Close’s debut is so much more than 20-something women moving through a succession of weddings.

Girls in White Dresses is a coming-of-age novel, not of a single girl, but of an entire group of interconnected young women. They know each other from schools or jobs or through the friends of friends. The stories chart a progression of large and small events as these women move from their early 20s to the end of that pivotal decade. It’s about the growing you do as you enter adulthood, and the mistakes and detours you make along the way. I can honestly say that my life in my 20s bore almost no resemblance to the lives depicted on the pages of this book. Even so, there was a universality to that period of life that I absolutely recognized, and could enjoy looking back upon from the greater confidence and security of my 40s.

I’ve read reviews that suggested that this novel would be most enjoyed by the same 20-something women being written about, but I’m not sure that’s the case. There’s something really delightful about being able to revisit a period of your life, without it BEING your life. I can smile about the foibles of my 20s now. Not so much while I was living them. And so I smiled my way through Girls in White Dresses. There was plenty of humor along the way to give me cause to smile, and plenty of nostalgia. Written as a series of short stories, the characters populating Close’s novel were more like snapshots of women, showing them as they existed in episodic moments of time. But these women were idiosyncratic, believable, and occasionally quirky. (I love that Ellen dates ugly boys!) I will warn that there is a large cast of characters, and it takes a while to get a solid grasp of who is who, and where they are from story to story. Close’s prose seemed sort of choppy and spare as the novel opened, but either I got used to her style or things smoothed out as I got further into the novel.

I don’t know that you’ll find larger truths or messages in this book, but for whiling away a few hours, you could do far worse. I would love to follow these young women into their thirties and beyond.

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