Going into Jennifer Close’s, Girl’s in White Dresses, I was sort of hoping that I wouldn’t be stepping into a story that glorified “finding the ideal partner,” or proposed that “marriage” is a key element of being a fulfilled, satisfied human-being- and, in some ways, I did end up getting just that.
But do not be mislead- Girl’s in White Dresses, is not your conventional romance novel.
The plot of Close’s debut novel is centered on a group of college friends, primarily Isabella and her friends Mary and Lauren, who have moved on from their days at Boston College and are now adults living and working in New York City. In addition to following the trials and tribulations of these three characters, the novel is sprinkled with stories and musings of the girl’s friends from school and co-workers. In its own way, each of these stories is, respectively, centered on love in some way, or, more accurately, the pains and frustrations that accompany finding, living, and maintaining romantic relationships. Indeed, the character’s stories are largely melancholic, and I did find myself wishing for at least a glimmer- no, not even a glimmer; I would settle for a speck!- of hope to shine through and remind me that the trials of love are worth it. (Ok, maybe this derives from a, uh-hem, healthy “rom-com” addiction and one-too-many viewings of “The Notebook.”)
This is not Twilight, folks: there is no sparkly aura around any of these men. In fact, upon reflection, I can’t remember any moments where, as a reader, I found any of Close’s character’s significant others to be appealing in any real way at all (sorry Darcy fans). In spite of this, men and relationships play a central role in the story’s of each character, and eventually, though their goals seems to be more about finding a “relationship,” than finding the “perfect man.” Maybe this is what sort of irked me about the novel as a whole- it almost feels as though the women are “settling” with mediocre men in order to fulfill a social expectation to be in a relationship. Close is being realistic in her portrayal of her character’s relationships- without the filter of any rose-colored light. However, it might have been more powerful if these women, who constantly question the line between how much annoyance and discord they should tolerate in their relationships before “normal” becomes “destructive,” found a little more joy in their relationships. The women spend so much of their time expressing frustrations, guilt, fears, and confusion, that it is hard to understand why they would even want to be married and have families in the first place.
Despite its rather dismal stories, Girls in White Dresses, does feel like a comedy. The ups-and-downs of these women are dusted with enough sarcasm and wit that they feel light-hearted. I truly did enjoy getting to know each of the character’s- her dreams and her joys. My only criticism is that I wished they didn’t feel such a pressing need to be married, but instead, viewed love as the “whipped cream” on top of their lives- not necessary, but a sweet addition. But, I suppose, that is the point Close is making. Maybe Girls in White Dresses is not a romance novel- maybe its a social commentary.