25 November 2008


Earlier this year I was accused of not judging a book by its cover. I had reviewed a book which, in the advance review copy I had, sported a plain sort of maroon jacket. When it hit the stands, though, it was graced with one of the most common pictorial cliches in chick lit, a close-up of feet in fancy shoes. I was castigated online for overpraising this book because, clearly, any book with a cover like that can't be that good by definition.

I bring this up because, well, the Internet is a funny place filled with people who have, to paraphrase Margo Channing, so many opinions. But I judged LOVE IN THE TIME OF TAFFETA, and it came back to haunt me. I was attracted to this book by, as I said, its punny title and also because it looked like a sort of '50s career-girl novel. Why, just check out that winsome-looking lass over there! Add a description about a plucky girl named Iley who takes a part-time job as a photographer's assistant and I had placed this book in my mind very securely. It was going to be a hidden treasure! You all would thank me for bringing it to your attention.

I didn't like LOVE IN THE TIME OF TAFFETA, but I might have if I hadn't set myself up for a certain kind of book. Iley, who loves photography but can't get any attention for her art (let alone make a living from it), is having what could be called a career crisis: Despite being a take-no-bullshit tomboy, she's taken a job photographing proms and weddings in season, where she accidentally sleeps with her married boss... several times. This makes her happy, but her art is suffering.

The plot becomes more about she can find Happiness (certainly with the capital H), because it just won't do to be bitter and cynical in this world, than the art versus commerce struggle it sets up, which happens to wrap up in a big bow when she does find said Happiness. There's also an odd puritanical strain to it finale that left a bad taste in my mouth, although I'm certainly not going to advocate sleeping with someone else's husband as a path to self-discovery. What I'm saying is, you might like this book now that I've dampened your expectations, but it wasn't for me.

Image via a great blog about dresses, A Dress A Day.

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