Monday, March 16, 2020

The Grace Kelly Dress

Title:  The Grace Kelly Dress
Author:  Brenda Janowitz
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1525804669 / 978-1525804663

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She hated the dress."

Favorite Quote:  "The dress only means something if you want it to. What is important are the people behind it. When it comes to these things that are handed down from generation to generation, each woman leaves her own mark on it, so that it tells ours story, stitch by stitch."

The idea of an heirloom resonates. The idea of the memories, traditions, and stories an object holds is often times what makes it beautiful in my eyes more so than the object itself. "We need to remember the past so that we can more clearly see where we are going."

The "object" in this case  is a wedding dress seen through the eyes of three different women. The seamstress in 1958 Paris is Rose. She is the creator of the dress. The mother of the bride, as a bride herself in 1982 Long Island is Joan. The bride in 2020 Brooklyn is Rocky.

Rose comes to be the creator of the dress because of an unfortunate incident. She is a seamstress in a Parisian atelier, known by the name of and for the designs of the atelier owner. An unfortunate occurrence makes Rose part of an illusion to preserve the atelier. Rose is to create a wedding dress that will be deemed Madame's design. The design and the relationship with the bride brings Rose to a place and a life she never dreams of.

Joan is a college girl; her life is full of sorority sisters and wedding dreams. She is engaged to a handsome young gentleman with all the right credentials. She is also the only remaining child of her parents as her sister died a few years previously. Joan places the burden of all their expectations on her shoulders. Her journey is one of discovery - about family secrets, about her sister, and about herself.

Rocky is the woman choosing her own path. She is unconventional, independent, and successful. She is in a strong relationship with someone who is a true partner in life. She is planning her wedding, trying to find a balance between staying true to herself and honoring her mother's dreams. She mourns her father and always feels as if her mother prefers her sister Amanda. She is torn between wanting to make the choices right for her and for earning her mother's approval. Inside the strong independent woman is still a girl wanting her mother's unconditional love.

The books winds chapter by chapter, back and forth through the women's stories. Each one feels like a cohesive whole and, at the same time, it all ties together in a family legacy and in the history of the dress. As the author states, her approach to writing was to try and do each timeline justice. Rocky's story and Rose's story end about where I expect. Joan's story is the surprise. Its ending is the least specified, but it still works. Again, it is interesting to read that this is the story line that challenged the the author the most.

As you might expect, this book does contain a few physical scenes that I could do without. Overall, though, the story stays focused on the strength of these women and on their relationships with the other women in their lives. The strength of the women and the strength they find in each other is the lasting memory of this book.

The Grace Kelly Dress
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Author: Brenda Janowitz 

ISBN: 1525804669 / 978-1525804663

Publication Date: 03/03/2020

Author Bio:

Brenda Janowitz is the author of five novels, including The Dinner Party and Recipe for a Happy Life. She is the Books Correspondent for PopSugar. Brenda's work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, Salon, Redbook, and the New York Post. She lives in New York.

Author Q&A:

Q: You write that you've always loved wedding dresses. What fascinated you about Grace Kelly's dress in particular, and how did you come up with the idea for this novel?
A: Ever since I first laid eyes on this iconic garment, I’ve been in love. To me, Grace Kelly’s wedding gown is the ultimate dress. Beautiful, elegant, and refined-- what more could any bride want? My agent sent me an article from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. The moment I heard the story, I knew that I had the idea for my next novel. Once I decided to write about a wedding gown, there was only one thing I envisioned: Grace Kelly on her wedding day. So, when it came time to describe what this heirloom dress looked like, I found myself describing Grace Kelly’s gown-- the lace sleeves, the cummerbund, the full skirt. I quickly realized that the characters in the book should be as enamored of this design as me, and The Grace Kelly Dress was born!

Q: You alternate between three characters' stories. Did you focus more on one before turning to the others, or did you write the novel in the order in which it appears?
A: I like to write in a very straightforward manner, and that usually means writing each chapter in order, from beginning to end. So, I approached this book in this same way, at first. But then, I realized that in order to make each story have the meaningful arc I was looking for, I’d need to focus on one story at a time. So, I broke the book apart into three different documents, and worked on one timeline at a time. This enabled me to fully immerse myself in each protagonist’s life, as well as the time period I was exploring. Once I’d completed all three timelines, the real work began. I wove the book back together, and that was when the book took its true form, as I made sure that the different timelines all spoke to each other in a meaningful way. It certainly made the book take longer to write, but I think that by working on each timeline separately, I was able to do the individual stories justice.

Q: The book is set in the New York area and in Paris. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is so incredibly important! Where a character lives and how she interacts with her environment says so much about who she is. Rocky, our protagonist in 2020, lives and works in Brooklyn, and it says as much about who she is as the tattoos she proudly wears all over her body. Joanie, in 1982, lives a sheltered life on Long Island, but when she goes into New York City, she finds a world much larger than the one she was living. And Rose, in 1958, is in Paris, but as a poor orphan, lives a different type of sheltered life, working in a highly regarded atelier during the day, and doing not much else.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve loved writing about an heirloom item and the family that owns it, so I’m doing it again! I’ll be focusing on another family and another heirloom that has been passed down. Heirlooms are so incredibly important to me-- I wear one of my Grandma Dorothy’s rings every day, and I love having a piece of her with me as I go through my day to day. 

Q: What is one of the biggest challenges you have in a story like this that spans different times in history?
A: One of the biggest challenges for me, was the massive amount of research. When writing in another time period, I underestimated how carefully every sentence would have to be researched. The characters needed to sound like they lived in the time period I was presenting, and every reference needed to be spot on-- from what the characters were wearing, to the types of music they listened to, to the way they styled their hair. Is it any wonder that my current work in progress will take place in the present?

Q: Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
A: I found Joanie, in 1982, to be the most challenging to write. I first created her character while working on the 2020 timeline, at which point we only know her as Rocky’s mother. It took a lot of thought to figure out who she would be at age 20, and how she would grow into the woman we see in 2020. Additionally, since we meet her mother in the 1958 timeline, it was important that the reader see a connection there, too. On the first round of edits, I completely trashed the original 1982 storyline and re-wrote it from the ground up. I think that I needed the first draft to truly learn who she was, and how to create her story. 

Q: Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between?
A: I’ve always loved to write. In fact, it’s the reason I became a lawyer. But I was one of those unhappy lawyers, so for my 30th birthday, my best friend, Shawn, organized a group gift-- she got all of our friends together and sent me to my first writing class. It’s the thing that helped me to take my writing more seriously, and the place where I began writing what would become my first novel.

Q: Any type of writing ritual you have?
A: I wish I could say that I have certain rituals and that I have a process for letting the muse in, but the truth is, I’m just a busy working mom, so I write when I can. Sometimes, I’m dictating full chapters on the voice memo app on my phone. Sometimes, I’m jotting notes on the backs of receipts. I say: do whatever works!

Q: What is your favorite genre to read, and why?
A: I love to read, and I love reading all different types of genres. I think it makes you a better writer to be more widely read. That said, I have a soft spot for upmarket commercial fiction. If Reese Witherspoon can make a limited series HBO drama out of it, I’m in!

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: The main thing is that I want readers to really enjoy the story and have a great reading experience. As for a takeaway, it’s been really moving to have readers reach out to me to discuss the role that heirloom items have had in their own life. I always tell my kids: it’s people who are important, not things. But I do believe that certain things, like these heirlooms that are passed down, have meaning. They show us where our family has been, and each one has a story connected to it. Stories are powerful, and the stories about where we come from are so incredibly meaningful.

Buy Links: 

Social Links:
Facebook: @BrendaJanowitz
Twitter: @BrendaJanowitz
Instagram: @brendajanowitzwriter

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