Dealing with a rough year, and a challenging summer of both professional and personal trials (not to mention allergies that are at def con levels), I thought I would escape into a fun bit of fluff via a chick lit novel. I picked up Vintage by Susan Gloss, charmed by the cover of a pretty dress in a shop window.
As a concept Vintage has a lot of potential. This is a book that tells the tale of three very dissimilar women. Violet is the owner of a Madison, Wisconsin-based vintage clothing shop called Hourglass (love the name). She escaped a bad first marriage to her high school boyfriend, Jed, and a stifling life in the small town of Bent Creek (fictional-looked it up). Always a lover of vintage clothing and accessories, Violet realizes her dream to sell vintage finds at Hourglass to the Madison locals.
April is 18-years-old and pregnant. She’s also been abandoned by her boyfriend who is off to medical school. A smart girl, and a math whiz, April has to put her college education on hold due to her pregnancy and her impending single motherhood. She is also dealing with the death of her mentally ill mother, who died in a car accident, which may have been a suicide.
And then there is Amithi, who immigrated to the United States from India after marrying her husband in an arranged marriage Naveen when she was still a teenager. She recently found out Naveen has been cheating on her for decades with a colleague. Amithi is also struggling with the idea of her daughter Jayana being married to a non-Indian man.
Violet first makes April’s acquaintance when April tries to a return wedding dress to Hourglass. Violet has a strict policy when it comes to returning items to her shop. But despite that she takes some pity on April, being pregnant, abandoned by her boyfriend, rejected by her boyfriend’s parents, college plans that are put on hold and now without a mother. Through a wee bit of maneuvering, Violet agrees to hire April on as an intern to help her gain some college credits. April is a whiz when it comes to numbers, and she helps organize Hourglass’s financial and accounting matters. Even though Violet is not yet forty, she seems a bit out of sorts when it comes to any organizing that requires a computer and an Excel spreadsheet.
Amithi becomes Violet’s friend when she comes into Hourglass to sell a sari she wore when she married Naveen in 1968. Her marriage now in tatters due to Naveen’s betrayal and infidelity, Amithi has no need for a silk orange colored sari to remind her of her wedding day. She’s also sick of her daughter sticking her nose in her and Naveen’s business, and just wants to move on, not knowing who she is beyond being a devoted wife and mother. However, Amithi does have a skill that helps her bond with Violet. She is a talented seamstress and soon she is helping Violet with some of her vintage items that need some TLC. Doing something she loves and excels at, helps Amithi feel useful and helps her cope with the of her marriage.
And with these three characters, Vintage started out a promising read…but it soon fell flat and became just standard-issue chick lit that failed to inspire and entice me as a reader. These included banalities like Violet obsession with her biological clock and dating life. There is April’s ex-boyfriend swooping back into her life at just the right time to rescue her from becoming a single mom. And then there is Violet’s ex-husband oozing back into her life, just as she sparks up a relationship with a new man. And then there are Violet’s friends, Karen and Lane, giving up their careers in law and show biz respectively for soccer mom suburbia. There is an evil landlord who threatens the fate of Hourglass, but thank goodness for a rich benefactor whose death pretty much saves the fate of Hourglass. And I’d be remiss not to mention a clichéd story-line of a fashion show featuring drag queens and a single declaration of love.
Only Amithi didn’t come across as a total cliché. And I think a novel focused on Amithi and the choices she makes in the wake of her busted marriage would be so much more interesting.
However, Vintage isn’t a complete mess. Gloss is a talented writer, with a gift for writing sincere dialogue that made the three women real to me even though I found them a bit too clichéd. Gloss also has a wonderful way of describing people, places and things that made them truly come to life. She captures Madison perfectly. And I also could actually see the Hourglass’s layout in my mind’s eye. I also loved how each chapter began with a brief description of various vintage finds including not only April’s wedding dress and Amithi’s sari, but 1980s power suit, complete with shoulder pads, Frye boots from the 1970s, an apron from the 1950s and a sweet little baby bonnet from the 1940s.
For the most part, Vintage was just a fun, inoffensive book, fully adequate for lazy dog days of summer. I just wish it wrapped up in way that was more classic Chanel suit and not a pilled acrylic sweater.