Book 18, A book with a color in the title, Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
This choice for my reading challenge came about out of pure curiosity; I have seen several of my friends reading this book and so I wondered what made it so appealing. I feel sometimes like I pick too many literary/classic works as well, so my goal was to have this year’s choices reflect some more contemporary/popular choices like this novel. What do so many women find appealing about this novel? I suppose it does have the same draw as something along the lines of Sex in the City, but on a far more generic and underdeveloped level. It focuses upon the romantic relationships of young women, which as a young woman would obviously be appealing as it relates deeply to your own experiences (if you are a straight, white, college-educated woman).
The narrative arc is told from a third person omniscient narrator who skips from character to character, always young women in the same group of friends, providing snippets of the various romantic relationships these women have as they grow up. It follows them from their early twenties into the next ten years of their lives. We see some of them married, with children; others experience a full range of dating horrible men in pursuit of finding The One. At times, it’s funny. Sometimes it’s sad, but nearly always it waxes nostalgic to the types of relationship you yourself have had. Whether you’re the one who married your high school sweetheart, or the toxic bachelorette in your thirties (like me!), there’s at least one relationship here that will ring eerily true to your own experiences.
For me, the writing was almost unbearable. It was so weak. I struggled throughout most of the novel with my eyes rolling, but then I’d be struck with this kernel of truth that nearly knocked me over. I didn’t expect to find some of these profoundly true experiences and thoughts buried deeply in the badly written prose. Those small moments kept me from abandoning all hope. One of the weakest parts of the writing was the author’s inability to write a character that had any depth. I hate to admit this, but the characters held zero appeal for me. They are a handful of twenty something white girls, all with similar names, so they blur. It’s hard to keep everyone straight—they are friends from high school, or college, or work. I guess it doesn’t really matter—these girls stand in for ALL girls at one point or another in our lives. The “everywoman” if you will. Perhaps this is why the author chose to make them so generic. But it’s a fine balance, and in doing this she makes the reader also not care much about the characters or what they are experiencing. They aren’t particularly likable. They are over privileged upper middle class brats whining about a lot of stupid things, but then they hit a universally unifying experience that resonates with you as a reader, and you hate them a little less.
One thing that resonates with virtually all women is the drudgery of weddings and being a bridesmaid. In the beginning, weddings are fun, hopeful events. After you’ve been to dozens, they become a cookie-cutter snoozefest. There is a great deal of effort put into pretending you care about the toaster the bride got at her shower, or the horror she feels at cummerbunds that don’t match table napkins, but it’s something women fake our way through for our girlfriends because we know someday, we will demand the reciprocal behavior when it is our turn. Then after the plague of weddings comes the pretense of caring about what type of poo the new baby has done, or trying to do the math involved with decoding a baby’s age in weeks and months (seriously, wth is with that? Just say the kid is 2 months old). It realistically paints a picture of being an outsider in the Tribe of Womanhood, and how ridiculous it looks from the outside. But it also underscores the love we have for our friends to go along with the ruse.