Friday, October 11, 2013

Girls in White Dresses (Book Review)

Friday, October 11, 2013 8:52 AM with 5 comments

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Girls in White Dresses

Author: Jennifer Close
Publisher: Knopf
Number of Pages: 292
Release Date: August 9, 2011

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Wickedly hilarious and utterly recognizable, Girls in White Dresses tells the story of three women grappling with heartbreak and career change, family pressure and new love—all while suffering through an endless round of weddings and bridal showers.

Isabella, Mary, and Lauren feel like everyone they know is getting married. On Sunday after Sunday, at bridal shower after bridal shower, they coo over toasters, collect ribbons and wrapping paper, eat minuscule sandwiches and doll-sized cakes. They wear pastel dresses and drink champagne by the case, but amid the celebration these women have their own lives to contend with: Isabella is working at a mailing-list company, dizzy with the mixed signals of a boss who claims she’s on a diet but has Isabella file all morning if she forgets to bring her a chocolate muffin. Mary thinks she might cry with happiness when she finally meets a nice guy who loves his mother, only to realize he’ll never love Mary quite as much. And Lauren, a waitress at a Midtown bar, swears up and down she won’t fall for the sleazy bartender—a promise that his dirty blond curls and perfect vodka sodas make hard to keep.

With a wry sense of humor, Jennifer Close brings us through those thrilling, bewildering, what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life years of early adulthood. These are the years when everyone else seems to have a plan, a great job, and an appropriate boyfriend, while Isabella has a blind date with a gay man, Mary has a crush on her boss, and Lauren has a goldfish named Willard. Through boozy family holidays and disastrous ski vacations, relationships lost to politics and relationships found in pet stores, Girls in White Dresses pulls us deep inside the circle of these friends, perfectly capturing the wild frustrations and soaring joys of modern life.


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MY THOUGHTS:

I love Girls in White Dresses. The first time I read it, back in August of 2011, I flew through it, ignoring almost everything else to get to the end. Less than a year later, I picked it up and read it again. Today I finished the audio version after spending the last week or so listening to it during my commute. Even now, I know that this will be a book that I will be picking up again, moving this from a book I really enjoy to my favorites shelf.  

One of my favorite aspects of Girls in White Dresses is its unique style. Each chapter is written like a short story, which is one my favorite formats for a novel. The novel is melancholy and funny and just oh-so-true. It tells the stories of a group of friends after college as they start to navigate their lives in the city: Their jobs and relationships, the wedding showers of friends they are mostly happy for, actual weddings, pregnancy, holding on to the guys who aren't really right because at least they aren't alone, and the fading of friendship with girls they were so close to during those college years. 

The first review I posted on this blog just over 6 months ago (which I just realized because I had to look it up--it's been six months since I started this little blog!) was for Jennifer Close's novel The Smart One. In that review I compared Girls in White Dresses to the HBO show Girls, and that is an apt description (ahem, if I do say so myself). I have to admit that I completely shy away from the NA genre. The books always sound so tragic to me. Full of melodramatic angst and abusive boyfriends and tragic pasts. It just isn't for me. At all. But I do love reading about girls/women in this uncertain age. This is the kind of book I wished we meant when we talk about NA. Every time I read it, I am amazed at how simple and true the narrative is. I see myself and my friends. It makes me sad to reflect on the girls I was so close to in college who I rarely, if ever, talk to now.

My original, and only complaint of this book, is that it is very hard to keep all of the girls straight. There are a couple of girls who are the "main characters", but some of the stories are about the more peripheral girls who may have been mentioned in other stories, but for whom I couldn't remember details--and I read this almost straight through (and three times). Even with some of the more prominent characters, I would ask myself, "Now, Lauren was the waitress with the bad bartender boyfriend, right?" and would have to flip back to make sure that I was thinking of the right character. If this was intentional on the author's part, a kind of statement about how girls of this age are all the same, then she did it brilliantly. Honestly, this was less confusing the second time I read it and it didn't phase me at all this last time through.


If any one is the "star", it is Isabella. Roughly half of the stories revolve around her and she often pops up in the other stories as well (as they almost all do). Isabella moves to NY with her friend Mary after college because she doesn't know what else to do. She gets a job she doesn't understand and dates a boy who isn't quite right for her. She watches as her friends gets married. She plays the role of bridesmaid and attends a hundred showers. She is over-joyed for them when they get pregnant, even though she is still far from settling down. She is unsure of who she is and what she should be doing with her life. She doesn't understand why she still feels like a teenager, even as she nears 30.

I truly cannot recommend this book enough and I imagine almost all women would be able to relate. Jennifer Close's writing is simply beautiful. The stories are like little bon-bons and I loved each and every one. I cared about all of the characters and saw aspects of myself in almost all of them. Together they blend into the archetype of "girl in her 20s" without ever once seeming trite or cliche. As I've read this book now three times in the last two years, I have no doubt that I will continue to revisit it on occasion.



Favorite quotes


On weddings: Lauren learned something important at Sallie and Max's wedding: You never want to be the first one of your friends to get married. If you are, just resign yourself to the fact that your wedding will be a shit show. Most people are still single, open bars are a novelty, and no matter how elegant the wedding was planned to be it will wind up looking like a scene of of Girls Gone Wild

On bridezillas: Their friend Kristi was engaged. They were all happy for her. They were all bridesmaids. They were all sick of celebrating it. Kristi was really embracing her role as bride-to-be. She never said things like "Let's talk about something besides the wedding," or, "You don't have to buy me a present for every party." She wanted all the attention and she wanted all of the presents. This was her time, she kept reminding them, like it was something she'd earned. 

On the first job out of college: Isabella got a job as an assistant, working for two high-level executives at a mailing-list company. She wasn't sure what they did exactly, but she did know that they called her their "executive assistant" and that her main job every morning was to get Bill a corn muffin with raspberry jelly and to get Sharon a chocolate chip muffin. Bill asked for his muffin, and Sharon did not. This was part of the game. Each morning, when Isabella placed the muffin on Sharon's desk, she said, "Oh, I shouldn't!" but she still ate it. "I was getting Bill's muffin and I thought maybe you'd want one?" Isabella would say in response. As long as she did this, they seemed happy. 

On cutest-boy-in-the-class-syndrome: "You know, when you spend all your time in a class and it's boring and you get a crush on a guy, who looks super cute in the class but then when you go out in the real world, he's not. It's just that you were only comparing him to that small group, so there was a curve."
"Huh," Isabella said. "I never thought about it like that."
"I mean, that's just the name, but it applies to all sorts of things. Like why camp boyfriends always turned out to be nerds. Or how a work crush can happen on a guy that's really not all that great." She shrugged and tried to look modest, as though she were the one to discover this phenomenon.

     (This one, especially, cracked me up. I clearly remember having a crush on this 20 year-old dude I worked with at McDonald's the summer before my senior year of high school. I wouldn't have looked twice at this guy in the normal world, but working at McDonald's was far from titillating and I needed to find a way to pass the time.)

On scary mother-in-laws: "Oh," Button (the MIL) said, "I guess you're his number one girl now." For a moment, Mary thought she had heard wrong. And then for another she was just too creeped out to answer.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop now. Read this. It's awesome.

5 comments:

  1. I remember seeing this book around but I just never picked it up. Sounds like a fun read and I just love the cutest-boy-in-class-syndrome quote. Hilarious. Great review! ~Pam

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    1. It's a super quick read. I'd definitely recommend it. The cutest boy is my favorite. I'm pretty almost girls/women can relate to that. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I've been wanting to read this one and I'm glad that it's as good sounding as I had hoped! Being in that mid 20s place right now, this would most likely strike a chord with me as well!

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    1. I think you'd love it. I think most women would relate in some way or another. Let me know what you think if you do pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Well if you've read this that many times, I need to read it. Obviously! The summary really does sound interesting as I'm starting to get in that stage. I know 3 people who are engaged and I can't even tell you how many people I know that are pregnant or already have a kid. Granted, they had them way too early but still. It's such a weird time because here I am, not dating anyone, and my friends are planning the rest of their life with someone. I feel like I'm behind haha. So yeah, I could definitely relate to this book. I can see how it would get confusing though with all the secondary characters. I can't see how you kept them straight listening to it in audiobook format!

    RE: the NA thing. Yes, I hate it. They all seem super dramatic and depressing or overly unrealistic. I've only read one "NA" book and I wouldn't even consider it that way. It read more like YA. If there were more books like this that were NA, I'd totally start reading the genre more.

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Hello, there! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I read each and every one and will do my best to respond--usually on your blog instead of on mine. I will, however, always answer direct questions. Due to serious time restraints, this blog is now an award free zone, but I appreciate the thought!