Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Women's voices have ring of realism

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Girls in White Dresses

By Jennifer Close

Knopf, 291 pages, $28

Through a series of loosely interconnected stories, American writer Jennifer Close offers a poignant, authentic and often humorous novel that bridges that awkward gap between childhood and becoming a woman.

Following the lives of three friends, Isabelle, Mary and Lauren, the stories weave in and out of the girls' lives, often taking a backseat to those of their friends, who help shape the world around them.

In this, her first outing, Close is adept at capturing those moments between getting drunk with your college friends and moving into the "grown-up" world of weddings and babies in a way that will have any woman in her late 20s or early 30s nodding in agreement.

Close's themes are those that anyone of the Sex and the City generation will relate to. There's the girl with the loser boyfriend who treats her badly. The one with the overbearing mother-in-law. And the one in the dead-end job she hates but has no idea what else to do with her life.

Close has higher literary goals than Sophie Kinsella, Helen Fielding or Candace Bushnell. She's closer to Melissa Banks in The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

 

One of the most cringeworthy stories takes place when the friends are forced to attend the sixth bridal shower of a girl who has become a "bridezilla." Close captures that innate cynicism that plagues all women in their 20s, and readers will be able to feel the anguish of having to endure another endless afternoon nibbling on tea sandwiches and trying not to drink too much champagne.

In another story, Isabelle finds herself dating a man who, in all respects, she should be happy to be with. And yet something is missing.

Close also creates characters anyone can relate to. For example, everyone has that friend who, while not a bad person, is simply exhausting to be around. She's that person who is always trying to one-up you, saying how everything is "amazing, wonderful, perfect!"

If criticism can be found, it's that the stories skim only the surface of the girls' lives, leaving readers with the feeling that they need to know more.

As well, Close's main characters lack variety in their voices, so that they eventually blend together, making it hard to distinguish them.

Strangely enough, this may also work in Close's favour. Though she creates the archetypes expected in this type of literary chick-lit -- the workaholic, the party girl, the romantic -- she also prevents those characters from becoming too mired in stereotypes, which happens too often happen in the realm of commercial women's fiction.

The results overall are compelling and comfortable, a book where the characters feel just like the friends you grew up (and got drunk) with.

Nisha Tuli is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 13, 2011 J7

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