Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Review: The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck ~ Fiction (Rated 2/5)

Flashing back and forth from modern-day Charlotte, to historical Emily, we see the romantic tale of a mysterious wedding dress take shape. When Charlotte, a wedding shop owner, finds herself the owner of a unique wedding dress just as her relationship crumbles, she sets out to discover the meaning behind the dress. Emily, the original owner of the dress, has her own romantic turmoil as she struggles with keeping her word to protect the family honor, or being truly happy with her real love.

The two stories converge as Charlotte discovers two other women who hold keys to unlocking the mystery of the gorgeous gown. Along the way, each woman shares her love story, and helps Charlotte determine where her heart lies.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the concept is (I love historical fiction!), I was extremely disappointed by this novel. I had hoped it would have more solid historical fiction grounding, but it turned out to be a stereotypical Christian romance.

The characters are mostly static; Charlotte, the main character, has little complexity, and relies on others for emotional support.  I didn't find Tim to be a sympathetic character, although Charlotte can't manage much righteous indignation at him for breaking up with her, dating his ex the next day, yet still wanting her back. Apparently Tim's manly scent, longing gaze, and muscular arm are all it takes to win back Charlotte's heart - but that is not enough for me.

The plot kept my interest because the flashbacks between the two stories held me in suspense. Otherwise the two plot lines lacked depth and offered few intriguing twists. The historical implications of suffrage and the plight of the blacks in the South during 1912 were of interest, but were not pulled into the plot the way they could have been (a la The Help).

I didn't mind the point of view shift from Charlotte to Emily, however about three-quarters of the way through, the point of view suddenly shifts to the ex-fiance and other characters, which I found distracting.

There are several loose ends - such as how the dress passes along to the first three women in very realistic ways, but Charlotte receives the dress mysteriously and inexplicably, even after all her sleuthing. Then there's the mystical nature of the dress fitting FOUR different women over 100 years while needing no alteration (reminiscent of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). Also, the mysterious men in purple, who appear at just the right moment and seem to know all about Emily / Charlotte though they've never met. These plot points seemed unrealistic and warranted explanation.

Most frustrating to this literature-lover was the gushing "purple prose" scattered frequently and randomly throughout the novel. The constant personification of wind, fragrances, textures, etc. quickly got  wearing. Also some imagery was, frankly, quite jarring ("And her heart crawled out of her chest and perched on her arm." - yikes!) or downright saccharine ("The creamy tenor of his voice sank through Charlotte like sweet caramel."). We are constantly told what brand of clothing characters are wearing, or minute details of Charlotte's grocery bag - these  details were distracting and, did not further the plot or characterization.

Although it's a "clean" novel with no swearing or sex, the characters constantly have "amorous" kissing episodes that leave them on the brink of breaking their convictions. I didn't see the point of including quite so much of this and so little detail about the actual relationships.

Christianity is a thin veneer over the plot - if you took out God and church references, I felt  nothing integral to the story would be missing. Charlotte finds her holy place at her job looking at the purity of wedding dresses, or feeling the beat of worship music, or wandering in a field - her walk with the Lord seems very emotionally based.

The author leaves us little to discover for ourselves; most of the theme and message of the book is constantly TOLD to us through the character's dialogue in a heavy-handed way. At the end, through Thomas's words at the midnight wedding we are told the meaning of the dress. The author does little to explain the concept of "Redeemed" which keeps being mentioned by multiple characters throughout the novel.

I am certain the author herself intended for readers to get more out of this novel. The discussion questions and author note at the end were more revealing than the novel itself. You can tell from these sections the author was hoping to impart a deeper meaning to the dress itself and the soul-searching the characters do. But the theme is not developed at a deep level to promote vigorous discussion.
The author had an intriguing concept for a historical/modern day blend of a novel. And, I do love a touch of romance, so the wedding dress story was appealing, but for me, it just did not deliver. Perhaps as an English teacher, with a degree in English literature, I was hoping for a richer literary experience?

I give it 2 stars because if you LOVE the romance genre and a quick read, you'll probably like The Wedding Dress, and it's good for a light read on a plane or the beach...

If you've read this book, or others by Rachel Hauck, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
(Remember, commenting is open to thoughtful, constructive comments only).

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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