Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

History books record the fact that World War II allowed women to enter the workplace, replacing all of the young men who went off to fight in Europe and the Pacific but far less frequently do they address how women survived the hard aftermath of war, especially those women whose husbands, fiances, or sons didn't come home or only came home in flag-draped coffins. With so many men home from the war, women's professional options were limited and what was available was appallingly low paid, even for those women who desperately needed jobs to support themselves and their families.  So many of these all female households struggled to stay one step ahead of their bills. Sofia Grant's novel, The Dress in the Window, is the story of one such family, determined to survive and eventually to thrive.

Sisters Jeanne and Peggy live with Peggy's mother-in-law and Peggy's young daughter in a poor mill town just outside of Philadelphia. Their life is not one that any of them once imagined. Jeanne's fiance and Peggy's husband both died in the war and with their own parents dead, they had no choice but to move in with the widowed Thelma. The three women scrimp to make ends meet as they collectively raise little Tommie, born after her father's death in Europe. The sisters work together, Peggy drawing dress designs and Jeanne sewing the dresses, to sell to better off women in their small community, helping to supplement their meager income. Both of them have a talent for fashion but although they are working together and love each other dearly, they still harbor long standing resentments about each other, resentments that sometimes cause them to lie and keep secrets, both large and small. Thelma also has secrets and as she chooses to divulge them (or not), her relationships with each of the sisters changes. All three women, working together or for themselves, are survivors, having endured so much loss, and each of them wants a chance to chase her own dreams in the world of fashion and the world of fabric but how they each go about reaching for their dreams might tear them apart forever.

The third person narration's focus rotates mainly amongst Thelma, Peggy, and Jeanne but young Tommie has a small bit towards the end as well. This allows the reader to see not only the choices each character makes but to understand those choices and the impact they have on each of the other characters. By moving between characters, the reader can see the conflicts coming long before the characters do and can find sympathy for all positions. Jeanne and Peggy are very realistic as sisters, bound together by a deep love for each other but also prone to jealousy and rivalry. They are quite different from one another and their way of going about achieving their professional dreams highlights that. Calling attention to not only the changing roles of women in the late 40s and early 50s, the novel also chronicles the much appreciated changes in fashion from wartime austerity to abundance and show, a reimagining that showcases not just fashion but an attitude shift of an entire nation. Grant taps into the new spirit pervading the country after the war, branding practical America as innovative and new through the struggles and rise of the sisters. The pacing of the novel is pretty consistent. As each secret is revealed, something else happens to take its place and to keep the reader turning pages.  This is a domestic and family drama as much as it is a picture of society's changing place for women.  The ending is a bit abrupt and the epilogue allows for a glossing over of some of the unresolved plot threads but in general this is a quick and pleasing read. Historical fiction lovers and those with an interest in fashion and the industry as a whole will enjoy the well researched details and the sisters who found a way into this male dominated world.

For more information about Sofia Grant and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or follow her on Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I imagine that the lives these women lead are typical of the experiences of many women after the war, but it is a side of the post-WWII era that I haven't read much about before.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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