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The Midnight Dress
by Karen Foxlee
The daughter of an alcoholic who drifts from town to town, Rose Lovell has never had a home, a place where she fit in. In her fifteenth year, the pair stumbles into the beach town of Leonora, and something like settling occurs. Rose and her father still live in their vehicle, but on her first day at the local high school she makes a friend – the vivacious, picture-perfect Pearl. Pearl is pretty and smart, as chatty as Rose is reticent, and she barges past Rose’s reluctance to drag the new girl into Leonora’s social life. She convinces Rose that she must participate in the annual harvest festival, the biggest event the town has to offer, and sends her off to talk with Edie Baker, a seamstress who lives in a dilapidated, crumbling building at the edge of town. Edie agrees to help Rose make a dress from a stunning midnight blue fabric, and as they sew she regales Rose with tales of her family. But the night of the harvest festival turns disastrous when one of the high school girls disappears, leaving little evidence or clues for the detective summoned to solve the case.
Each chapter is named after a specific type of stitch – ‘catch stitch’, ‘spiderweb stitch’, etc – and opens with a few paragraphs from after the night of the harvest festival. These segments are from the perspective of Detective Glass as he struggles to figure out what happened to the missing girl. The story than jumps back in time and switches to Rose’s life in the weeks before the festival as she hangs out with Pearl and becomes acquainted with the quirky, insular town of Leonora. The two narratives create a tension – we know that something very bad will happen, casting a shadow over the idyllic life of the ‘before’ scenes, and as readers we often know something that Glass does not, and wish there was a way to guide him to the correct clue. This way of storytelling keeps the story tight and propels it forward.
This is an excellent exercise in magical realism. There are hints of magic in the way that Edie Baker talks and lives, but it’s never overt, and could easily be a byproduct of the town’s collective imagination. Or maybe there really is something special about Edie and her sewing. I like the subtlety of it, and the fact that the reader can interpret this magic however they’d like.
With lovely, evocative writing and two captivating heroines – one the beaming ideal teenage innocent, the other a rougher, grittier outsider longing for inclusion - The Midnight Dress is an intriguing mystery and a fun read.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende
2012: Duck Prince Vol. 1 by Ai Morinaga
2011: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: David Grann (author of The Lost City of Z on The Colbert Report (Video)