I loved Susan McBride's last novel The Cougar Club and was thrilled at just the title of her hew novel, Little Black Dress, which more than delivers on that title and which is just out in paperback this week. And I love this guest post from her - who could resist this title? I give you....
Dysfunctional is the New Black
As a child, I believed that my family was achingly normal. My dad lived to work for IBM, my stay-at-home mom volunteered like a maniac, and my siblings and I had that rivalry thing down to a T. We were a noisy bunch, full of spit and vinegar (for which I blame our Scot-Irish roots). Laughter was abundant and hurt feelings were common.
In my teenage years, I realized how superficial some of that noise and laughter was. No one seemed comfortable dealing with emotions, especially unhappy ones.
As an adult, I discovered a real skeleton in the closet: my grandfather hadn’t spoken to his brother or sister in over fifty years, ever since a feud had erupted after my great-grandpa passed away. The fight was over money, and I never knew if Paw Paw’s brother and sister were alive or dead until a reporter called asking questions while writing Paw Paw’s obituary.
Perhaps family feuds are hereditary as I have an uncle that no one has spoken with since my grandmother’s death in 1996. (My grandma had warned me, “There’ll be fighting when I’m gone, you’ll see,” and I’d told her she was crazy. Crazy like a fox, I guess, as that was precisely what happened. I’m still amazed at how quickly families can be ripped apart and kept apart for generations. )
Curiosity about the tenuousness of relationships is one reason why I felt so compelled to write Little Black Dress. I’d been so careful before about exploring family ties in my books, although I’d always touched upon them, particularly between mothers and daughters. With Little Black Dress, I told myself to go for it and not worry about how anything I wrote would be perceived. So that’s exactly what I did, weaving a tale of two sisters, Evie and Anna, reared on a vineyard in tiny Blue Hills, Missouri in the 1950s; coming of age in the 1960s when Anna is set to marry a man hand-picked by their father. Only Anna’s impulsive purchase of a mystical black dress with the power to foretell the future prompts her to vanish on her wedding day, leaving Evie behind to pick up the pieces (oh, boy, and there are plenty of pieces!).
Though Evie and Anna Evans are pure fiction, I fear my family—so keen on feuds—will see my sister and me instead when they read the book. As with every novel I write, the characters were conceived in my overly active imagination; but even I can’t deny that tiny bits of myself seep in somehow, albeit subconsciously. Evie is certainly a woman I identify with: the responsible daughter, bookish and steadfast, often overlooked because of Anna’s flamboyance. And my sister does share at least one trait with Anna: my grandfather used to call her “Sarah Bernhardt,” after the early 20th century actress, because of her dramatic flair and inability to walk past a mirror without a sideways glance. But that’s where all similarity ends.
My sister and I have never shared a deep, dark secret like the one Anna and Evie are forced to keep. And let me state for the record that neither of us ever owned a magical black dress that foretold our futures like the one Anna buys from the gypsy’s shop in Ste. Genevieve. In fact, the only item I remember “sharing” was a curling iron that we loudly fought over every morning getting ready for school. And considering the number of bad hair days we both endured, I’d hardly say that it was magical.
Susan McBride is the author of Little Black Dress (on sale this week in paperback), which has been called “a lovely and entertaining journey into the magical side of things” by New York Times bestseller Sarah Addison Allen. Browse inside Little Black Dress, check out the reading group guide and friend SusanMcBrideBooks on Facebook!