The Little French Bridal Shop
By Jennifer Dupee
St. Martin's Press; hardcover; $26.99
Jennifer Dupee is the eldest of a set of fraternal triplets, and she grew up seeking any quiet corner of the house so that she could read, write, and work on puzzles. Her life-long passion for old houses inspired Elmhurst, the grand home featured in her debut novel The Little French Bridal Shop.
Another inspiration for this deeply thoughtful work came as an outgrowth of losing her mother to breast cancer when she was 24 years old, and she strove to capture the feelings of loss of identity, disorientation, and confusion that consume a person, even an adult, who becomes a caretaker of their ailing parent.
In The Little French Bridal Shop, Larisa Pearl returns home to her insular seaside hometown in Massachusetts to manage Elmhurst, the historic home left to her by her late aunt, who recently passed away.
One day, Larisa strolls into the town's local bridal shop on a whim and, seemingly out of nowhere, buys a dress. This comes even though she is not engages and is unsure if she wants a future with her boyfriend.
Word spreads around town that she is getting marries, and rather than dispelling the rumor, she chooses to perpetuate the lies, which escalate into a tangled web that confounds and hurts her parents and friends. This is also while Larisa is struggling to cope with her mother's worsening dementia; it's only when she can cope with her mother's fragile future that she is able to straighten out the chaos of her life.
The Little French Bridal Shop is a unique work in that it focuses on dementia from the view of the caretakers and family members of the person with the disease. It is a work that will resonate with readers who have faced, or are facing, profound changes in the relationships they have with their aging parents.
Why I Wrote The Little French Bridal Shop - By Jennifer Dupee
I've always had a fascination with old houses and the stories that come with them. When my husband and I first started dating, I discovered that he did as well. We often took neighborhood walks down nearby Elmhurst Road so that we could admire a historic house there. Several years later, not long after we got married, the house went on the market and we made a bid. Unfortunately, we were outbid by other buyers, but the house always stayed in my mind and as I embarked on my novel, I named my fictional house "Elmhurst" in tribute. The house in my novel is very different from the actual house we'd admired, but from the beginning, I had a very strong vision of it - a stately black colonial perched on a hill above a small seaside town.
I grew up on the North Shore of Boston near the coastal towns of Manchester-by-the-Sea and Beverly Farms. These small communities have an old world feel to them, a sense of the bygone, and their shores are graced by stately houses originally built as summer homes for the Boston Brahmin. It was clear to me that my fictional Elmhurst belonged in one of these towns. Thus, I knew the house and its locale. But I didn't yet know the story.
A year after we lost the bid for the house on Elmhurst Street, I treated myself to a writing weekend at the Emerson Inn in Rockport, MA, to try to uncover the story behind the house. I had just finished breakfast in the dining room and was trying to settle into some meaningful writing, but I kept finding myself distracted by the room's ridiculous wallpaper with its large repeating pattern of tan pheasants on a navy backdrop.
Each of the many identical pheasants peered backward over its shoulder, beak slightly open so that it looked almost like it was gagging on something. I couldn't stop laughing as I continued to look at them, so I began to write the wallpaper into my novel.
My story begins with the main character, Larisa, taking a crowbar to Elmhurst's pheasant wallpaper in an effort to discover the source of an apparent leak. She's recently purchased a wedding dress on a whim though she has no groom. She's grappling with her mother's worsening dementia and as the novel progresses, she perpetuates the rumor that she's getting married. As Larisa rips into the wall with the crowbar, she is in a state of disillusionment and confusion; she's not thinking clearly. In short, she's not quite herself. I recognized this state as it was something I deeply felt when I was grappling with my own mother's illness and then subsequent death. As I began to delve into the writing, the story of Larisa's deceptions became a vehicle to explore the feelings of loss of identity, disorientation, and confusion that consumes a child (even an adult child) who becomes a caretaker of an ailing parent.
I haven't walked by that house on Elmhurst in quite some time, but my husband and I are now settled in our own historic house, not far away. Our house doesn't yet have a name, but we're already collecting our share of stories and we're looking forward to many more to come.