On the occasion, I find myself gravitating toward old movies. You know, the Golden Age Hollywood kind, where stars like A. Hepburn and K. Hepburn and Kelly and Grant and Gable sort of just frolicked in the silver screens. Yes, it’s phenomenally unvaried and certainly undiverse, but there’s still a charm to the pacing of a Hitchcock or Hawks film, and I do wax nostalgic for it.
The book I requested from NetGalley certainly tries to bring life to that Golden Age, and admittedly, sometimes it worked.
THE WOMAN IN THE MOVIE STAR DRESS
by Praveen Asthana
Doublewood Press, February 2015
Rated: / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley
What if the clothes you wore carried ghostly fragments of your soul, and somehow those fragments got transferred to one who wore those clothes next?
The Woman in the Movie Star Dress is the story of a young Native American woman who comes to Hollywood to escape her past. She finds work in a vintage store that sells clothes used in the movies. One day she discovers a way to transfer human character through these vintage clothes and uses this ability to search for identity and mooring. But the threads of her past intervene like trip wires and complicate her quest, forcing her to look within her soul to understand who she really is.
The novel weaves humor, magic, romance, and suspense into a fresh and entertaining tale. An added bonus is the romp through the classic movies and femme fatales of old Hollywood.
She would want to be like Grace Kelly was in High Society where she had displayed a combination of romantic charm and the toughness of Katherine Hepburn.
I will say that there were a few good things that I took away from the story. The first was that sudden urge to start a marathon of old movies. How to Marry a Millionaire for Monroe and Bacall, The Philadelphia Story for Grant and K. Hepburn, and High Society for Grace Kelly (the latter of which I actually haven’t seen yet). That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. I’ve probably seen the first two movies I’ve mentioned a gazillion times, and I’d watch them over again, along with several others I haven’t seen yet. The mention of half of these movies–with historical context–in the story gave me a sense that Asthana did do some research.
(Though I will note that Katharine Hepburn might roll in her grave after seeing her first name misspelled over ten times in the text. Or, at the most, come back to life just to correct the mistake.)
The other thing I took from the story was that it had a charming way to divide chapters. For the most part, each chapter is named after a particular film star, with a quote from said star directly underneath it. Asthana then further incorporated the actor/actress into the chapter by remunerating certain tidbits of that actor’s/actress’ life. Often Genevieve–the main character–tries to emulate a particular actress within a chapter (Elizabeth Taylor in one instance, Ava Gardner in another). I thought this was cool in a way, because it gave me insight to a particular movie star’s life.
Unfortunately, those were the only things I really liked about the book. Which means I could have been fine picking up a random compendium of Golden Age Hollywood movie stars and been happier with that, because at least that doesn’t have the need to congeal together to form a story. The Woman in the Movie Star Dress would have been interesting–and it was interesting in the beginning–if not for the chapter disjoints and the hot mess that is the main character.
It was one of her bad habits–to compare any man she met with her screen heroes. She would ask herself: Does this guy have any of the polished handsomeness of Montgomery Clift, or the brutal beauty of Marlon Brando or the I-will-take-care-of-it presence of Humphrey Bogart, or the kind of delicious country sultriness Paul Newman showed in The Long Hot Summer? In short, does he look like a movie star?
At first I liked Genevieve. In fact, if I look at it as if she’s comparing guys to fictional characters in books, she’d probably be a version of me in some world or other. Genevieve also had some ambitions in the beginning, including wanting to become a sort of director. I mean, she and her family practically grew up around Paramount Studios, so it’s kind of a step in the right direction, right?
Apparently there was an Incident that completely tore her family–and life–apart, and the book pretty much goes through the motions of the After. After Genevieve’s family gets effed over. After Genevieve seemingly gives up her dream of becoming some director. After she gets a job at a local Hollywood celebrity clothing store. Soon after she sells a dress that may have been those of a legit femme fatale–one who actually went ahead and murdered her husband and lover in a jealous fit of rage.
I mean, this shit would have been fabulous. But I don’t even know where the story went after the premise was set forth.
After the initial introduction with Genevieve, however, I mostly just wanted to throw her off the Hollywood Hills. She constantly demeans herself and makes no effort to try. When one thing goes wrong, she tries to hightail it out of there and THEN blames the damn dress for making her do things she normally doesn’t do. The idea of dress transferrence was interesting at first, but at some point, even my initial suspension of disbelief got replaced with a question of “So if you shot your cheating husband, can you get away with saying that your dress made you do it?” or “So if a date takes you out twice, but you repeatedly leave and occasionally have sex with another guy, did the personality who wore the dress make you do it?”
Uh-uh. No. I might as well start punching out reporters now and claiming my Renegade Commander Shepard sweater made me do it. How’s that for transferrence for ya?
She walked up to Peter, gave him a kiss on each cheek, said “darling I have to go, I’m sorry. Do forgive me,” and then she turned around and walked to where Jeremy was waiting.
This is pretty much the second time Genevieve does this to the same guy. Not that I liked Peter any better, of course (I thought he was a class A-hole), but Genevieve chose to set herself with that kind of character. That doesn’t bode well for her general taste in men, to be honest. Actually, there were even several instances where she does stupid shit like get into a car with several shady guys because she felt rejected by a dude. I just…ugh, woman the eff up, Genevieve.
The fact that Genevieve was also pining over three completely unlikable guys added to my annoyance of both the character and the story. The fact that one of them happened to have had non-consensual sex with Genevieve’s mother is just disturbing on an entirely different level, and I did not like how the book tried to lessen the impact of this, especially on a girl who had walked in on the scene.
So. Yeah. I cannot in all honesty get behind this book, even though it did have some interesting and charming points. I will give it credit for my wanting to watch old movies. I guess that’s as much as I can say.
2 out of 5 cookies!