Thursday, August 20, 2015

White Dresses

I've been a reading fool all summer and I have so many book reviews coming for you. Truly. Just... start squirreling money away to go on a book buying binge. But also- think Christmas! (Shut up, you know it's coming, none of us can fight it.)

White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mothers and Daughters
A poignant memoir of three generations of women and the white dresses that adorned them

As a successful journalist at Good Morning America, Mary Pflum Peterson's persona is at odds with her complicated childhood, where she watched her brilliant yet emotionally vulnerable mother, Anne, unravel before her eyes. But their love of white dresses always united them—from their baptism dresses to their wedding gowns, white dresses embodied hope and new beginnings.

After her mother's sudden death, Mary dug deep to understand the events that led to Anne's breakdown. At twenty-one, Anne entered a convent, but lengthy periods of enforced fasting, isolation, and constant humiliation drove her to flee almost a decade later. Hoping to find new purpose as a wife and mother, she married, and was devastated when Mary's father revealed himself to be gay.

Anne retreated into chaos. By the time Mary was ten, their house was cluttered with broken appliances, stacks of mail, and teetering piles of assorted "treasures." But in spite of everything, their bond endured. Through the white dresses, pivotal events in their lives were celebrated, marking the journey through loss and redemption as Mary tried to save Anne from herself.

Now, when I started reading this I was certain I would end up giving this a lame 3 out of 5 stars. It was such a slow start for me and I didn't love the writing style. I found as I went through it that I started to love it. I really thought this would end up being a different type of mother/daughter memoir, something I could use to reflect on my own relationship with my mother, and even the relationship with my daughters. It turns out, not so much. But what it did do was turn what could have been another episode of Hoarders into a personal love story. 

It is essentially the story of Mary, but more so her mother. Her mother led a truly extraordinary life. When I think back to the era her mother would have lived, when she became a nun and then later left that to marry a man and have a family, I can only imagine what that kind of controversy would feel like to a young woman who is clearly so desperate for love and acceptance. Anne (Mary's mother) had a difficult relationship with her own mother and the story of how she took Anne's beloved security blanket away? I'll be honest, I cried. I understand that back then parents just did the best they could with very little guidance on how to parent but I can imagine that incident was a catalyst for Anne's future hoarding. Then when she does get married, the guy ends up being highly abusive and then ends up being gay. Which, again, when you look at the time period I wonder if he was angry that he had to live a lie and as a way to express that anger he abused the woman who loved him as some kind of punishment? I tell you what, if you are at all interested in family dynamics or psychology and psychiatry, this is going to be the best book you've read all year. Easily. 

Then poor Mary. Despite growing up in a tumultuous environment and the piles of stuff suffocating her, she becomes the perfectionist. Oddly enough, it's similar to the way Anne tried to be to get the love she needed from her own parents. Well, as Mary excels at school and makes plans for college, her mother retreats a little each day, eventually becoming hostile once Mary does move away for college. Anne tries to make Mary feel guilty for leaving her essentially alone, knowing full well what that house was like. But what struck me the most was that no matter how bad it got for Mary or for Anne, they loved each other. A lot. They maybe didn't understand each other and maybe didn't see eye to eye, and certainly didn't know how to communicate the love they had for each other, but they had the white dresses. The white dresses were always a silent way to say I love you. So at the beginning, when Mary is trying to desperately find these dresses I didn't understand why it would be a big deal. As soon as I finished the book I understood. Every one of us lose people significant to us in our lifetime- it's inevitable. We all wish we could say we loved them one more time, but Mary can. She has these dresses and being able to look at them is like a visual reminder that her mother loved her more than she can imagine. And really, that's maybe the best thing any of us could wish for. 

You can find this book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, of course. If you liked my review, share this post! 


Mattie @ Northwest Native said...

I think I would like this! The back story of her mother interests me. Great review!

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Visual memories, tangible things that bring us back to specific time and place, are usually my very favorite kind of memories.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!