The Grace Kelly Dress : A Novel
On Sale Date: March 3, 2020
$16.99 USD, $22.99 CAD
Fiction / Contemporary Women
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Two years after Grace Kelly’s royal wedding, her iconic dress is still all the rage in Paris—and one replica, and the secrets it carries, will inspire three generations of women to forge their own paths in life and in love.
Paris, 1958: Rose, a seamstress at a fashionable atelier, has been entrusted with sewing a Grace Kelly—look-alike gown for a wealthy bride-to-be. But when, against better judgment, she finds herself falling in love with the bride’s handsome brother, Rose must make an impossible choice, one that could put all she’s worked for at risk: love, security and of course, the dress.
Sixty years later, tech CEO Rachel, who goes by the childhood nickname “Rocky,” has inherited the dress for her upcoming wedding in New York City. But there’s just one problem: Rocky doesn’t want to wear it. A family heirloom dating back to the 1950s, the dress just isn’t her. Rocky knows this admission will break her mother Joan’s heart. But what she doesn’t know is why Joan insists on the dress—or the heartbreaking secret that changed her mother’s life decades before, as she herself prepared to wear it.
As the lives of these three women come together in surprising ways, the revelation of the dress’s history collides with long-buried family heartaches. And in the lead-up to Rocky’s wedding, they’ll have to confront the past before they can embrace the beautiful possibilities of the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brenda Janowitz is the author of five novels, including The Dinner Party and Recipe for a Happy Life. She is the Books Correspondent for PopSugar. Brenda’s work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, Salon, Redbook, and the New York Post. She lives in New York.
Author website: http://www.brendajanowitz.com/
Reviewer: Annie Horsky McDonnell
Brenda Janowitz took us on a deeply sincere and contemplative journey in her generational sweeping novel “The Grace Kelly Dress”.
It was truly sentimental, touching, and inspirational! I love books that wrap stories of friendship, love and family around a cherished item. This was magnificent! We forget how important our wedding dresses are to us, and what they symbolize. Thank you for this sincere and beautiful reminder.
As I was reading I was so full of nostalgia for my wedding dress…sitting in a box, carefully preserved, as Joan’s was so that it stays in pristine condition; to pass it down to a loved one.
Now I must decide my wedding dresses adventure!! It’s time.
The mother of the bride, as a bride herself
Long Island, 1982
She loved the dress. She loved the veil that went with it, too, though she wasn’t sure if it could be salvaged. It was showing signs of age, its edges curling and tinged with brown. But that wouldn’t dull her excitement.
Today was the day she would be trying on her mother’s wedding dress. Even though Joanie had tried it on countless times as a child—it was a favorite rainy-day activity with her mother—today felt different. She was engaged, just like she’d dreamed about ever since she could remember. When she tried the dress on this time, it was for keeps. She was completely in love with the dress.
“Let me help you get it on,” Joanie’s mother said, her French accent coming through. It was always more pronounced when she was feeling emotional. With her American friends, Joanie noticed, her mother always tried to sound “American,” softening her accent and using American expressions. But when they were alone, she could be herself. Let her guard down. Joanie knew exactly who her mother was, and she loved her for it.
Her mother handed Joanie a pair of white cotton gloves and then put on her own set. The first step in trying the dress on, always, so that the oils in their hands wouldn’t defile the fabric. She laid the large box on her bed and nodded her head at her husband, her signal to give them privacy. The door closed to Joanie’s childhood bedroom, and she and her mother were alone.
The white cotton gloves were cool and smooth on her skin. Joanie opened the box slowly. So slowly. It was sealed with a special plastic that was supposed to keep it airtight so that the dress would not oxidize and turn yellow. She and her mother laughed as they struggled to set the dress free. The last time she tried the dress on was the summer before her sister died. It was after Michele’s death that her mother brought the dress into the city so that it might be cleaned properly and preserved for just this day. At the time, Joanie hadn’t understood the connection between her sister’s sudden death and her mother’s tight grip on family heirlooms, but now, a year into her psychology degree at NYC University, she understood. It was so hard to hold on to things that were important to you, things that mattered, and preserving her wedding dress, this memory, was her mother’s way of taking control of something. It was something she could save.
The dress was just as beautiful as she’d remembered. Crafted from rose point lace, the same lace used on Grace Kelly’s iconic wedding dress, it was delicate and classic and chic and a million other things Joanie couldn’t even articulate.
“Go on,” her mother said, holding the first part of the dress—the bodice with the attached underbodice, skirt support, and slip—out for her to take. As a child, it had thrilled Joanie to no end that the wedding dress her mother wore was actually made up of four separate pieces. It was like a secret that a bride could have on her special day, something that no one else knew.
“I couldn’t,” Joanie said, hands at her side. Knowing how carefully preserved the dress had been, what the dress had meant to her mother, it was hard for Joanie to touch it. She didn’t want to get it dirty, sully its memory. “It’s just so beautiful.”
“It’s yours now,” her mother said, smiling warmly. “The dress belongs to you. Put it on.”
Joanie kicked off her ballerina flats, and her mother helped her ease the bodice on. Joanie stood at attention as her mother snapped the skirt into place, and wrapped the cummerbund around her waist. Joanie held her hands high above her head, not wanting to get in the way of her mother’s expert hands, hands that knew exactly where to go, fingers that knew exactly what to do.
“You ready in there, Birdie?” her father yelled from the hallway, impatient, his French accent just as strong as the day he left France. Joanie always loved how her father had a special nickname for her mother. When they first married, he would call her mother GracieBird, a nickname of Grace Kelly’s, because of the Grace Kelly–inspired wedding gown she wore on their wedding day. Eventually, it was shortened to Bird, and then over time, it became Birdie. What would Joanie’s fiancé call her?
Joanie inspected her reflection in the mirror. Her shoulder-length blond hair, recently permed, looked messy. Her pink eye shadow, which had always seemed so grown-up on her sister, made her appear tired and puffy-eyed. But the dress? The dress was perfect.
Her mother opened the door slowly, and her father’s face came into view. His expression softened as he saw his daughter in the wedding dress. She walked out into the hallway, towards him, and she could see a tear forming in the corner of his eye.
She turned to her mother, about to tell her that Daddy was crying, when she saw that her mother, too, had teared up. Joanie couldn’t help it—seeing her mother and father cry, she began to cry as well. She could never keep a dry eye when someone else was crying, least of all her parents, ex-pats from Europe who hardly ever cried.
Michele’s presence floated in the air like a haze, but no one would say it. No one dared mention that she would have worn the dress first. Should have worn the dress first.
“And look at us,” her mother said, her hands reaching out and grabbing for her husband and daughter. “All of us crying like little babies.”
All three embraced—carefully, of course, so as not to ruin the dress.
Her father kissed the top of her head. “Give us a twirl.”
Joanie obliged. The dress moved gracefully as she spun. Joanie curtsied, and her father gently took her hand and kissed it.
“I know what you’re thinking,” her mother said, her voice a song.
“What?” Joanie asked absentmindedly, while staring at her reflection in the mirror. She knew the first thing she’d change—the sleeves. The dress needed big, voluminous sleeves, just like Princess Diana had worn on her wedding day.
“Or I should say who you’re thinking about,” her mother said, a gentle tease.
“Who?” Joanie asked, under her breath, twirling from side to side in front of the mirror, watching the dress move.
“Your fiancé,” her mother said, furrowing her brow. “Remember him?”
“For sure,” Joanie said, spinning around to face her mother. “My fiancé. Yes. I knew that. And, yes. I was.” But the truth was, she had completely forgotten.
Excerpted from The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz. Copyright © 2020 by Brenda Janowitz. Published by Graydon House Books.
Q&A with Brenda Janowitz:
Q: You write that you’ve always loved wedding dresses. What fascinated you about Grace Kelly’s dress in particular, and how did you come up with the idea for this novel?
A: Ever since I first laid eyes on this iconic garment, I’ve been in love. To me, Grace Kelly’s wedding gown is the ultimate dress. Beautiful, elegant, and refined– what more could any bride want?
My agent sent me an article from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. The moment I heard the story, I knew that I had the idea for my next novel.
Once I decided to write about a wedding gown, there was only one thing I envisioned: Grace Kelly on her wedding day. So, when it came time to describe what this heirloom dress looked like, I found myself describing Grace Kelly’s gown– the lace sleeves, the cummerbund, the full skirt. I quickly realized that the characters in the book should be as enamored of this design as me, and The Grace Kelly Dress was born!
Q: You alternate between three characters’ stories. Did you focus more on one before turning to the others, or did you write the novel in the order in which it appears?
A: I like to write in a very straightforward manner, and that usually means writing each chapter in order, from beginning to end. So, I approached this book in this same way, at first.
But then, I realized that in order to make each story have the meaningful arc I was looking for, I’d need to focus on one story at a time. So, I broke the book apart into three different documents, and worked on one timeline at a time. This enabled me to fully immerse myself in each protagonist’s life, as well as the time period I was exploring.
Once I’d completed all three timelines, the real work began. I wove the book back together, and that was when the book took its true form, as I made sure that the different timelines all spoke to each other in a meaningful way. It certainly made the book take longer to write, but I think that by working on each timeline separately, I was able to do the individual stories justice.
Q: Tell us a little about your story and the story world you’ve created.
A: The Grace Kelly Dress is the story of three generations of women, and the wedding dress that binds them together. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family, and it’s entirely different from anything I’ve ever written before. I hope that readers will join me on this journey, and come to love these women as I do.
Q: Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
A: When my agent sent me a clip from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations of a family, I knew that I had the idea for my next book. It had everything I love to write about in one place– multiple generations, a wedding dress, and lots of room for friction. The image of a wedding gown is one that is so incredibly powerful to me. The way one chooses to dress for her wedding day says so much about that person, and how she wants to present herself to the world.
Q: The book is set in the New York area and in Paris. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is so incredibly important! Where a character lives and how she interacts with her environment says so much about who she is. Rocky, our protagonist in 2020, lives and works in Brooklyn, and it says as much about who she is as the tattoos she proudly wears all over her body. Joanie, in 1982, lives a sheltered life on Long Island, but when she goes into New York City, she finds a world much larger than the one she was living. And Rose, in 1958, is in Paris, but as a poor orphan, lives a different type of sheltered life, working in a highly regarded atelier during the day, and doing not much else.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: I’ve never written in a timeline other than the present, so there was a ton of research to be done! I had to research the two different time periods, 1982 and 1958. Even an innocuous detail like the brand of watch that a character is wearing can throw a reader out of the narrative if the author hasn’t gotten it just right.
The most enjoyable research I did was about Grace Kelly herself, and, of course, her iconic gown. I read Kristina Haugland’s incredible book, Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride, and then had the opportunity to speak with her as well. I loved learning every detail I could about this beloved dress, but by far the most interesting thing I learned was this: Grace Kelly’s gown consisted of four separate parts, each of which needed to be put on separately. What a wonderful secret for a bride to have on her wedding day!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve loved writing about an heirloom item and the family that owns it, so I’m doing it again! I’ll be focusing on another family and another heirloom that has been passed down. Heirlooms are so incredibly important to me– I wear one of my Grandma Dorothy’s rings every day, and I love having a piece of her with me as I go through my day to day.
Q: How did you get the idea for this novel?
A: The idea came to me when my agent sent me a clip from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. I couldn’t get over how incredibly special that was, and I immediately started to think about what it would mean for a family to have an item like that. How would each woman change the dress to fit her personality? How would the time she was living in have an effect on those choices? And what if one woman didn’t want the dress?
Q: Is Grace Kelly one of your favorite actresses? What is your favorite Grace Kelly role?
A: YES! Grace Kelly, to me, is the ultimate Hollywood story: beautiful, talented, and then she married a prince. I love all of Grace Kelly’s films, but I particularly adore To Catch a Thief. It’s so romantic and flirty, and it’s got Cary Grant.
Q: What is one of the biggest challenges you have in a story like this that spans different times in history?
A: One of the biggest challenges for me, was the massive amount of research. When writing in another time period, I underestimated how carefully every sentence would have to be researched. The characters needed to sound like they lived in the time period I was presenting, and every reference needed to be spot on– from what the characters were wearing, to the types of music they listened to, to the way they styled their hair. Is it any wonder that my current work in progress will take place in the present?
Q: What is the significance of the title: The Grace Kelly Dress?
A: The Grace Kelly Dress refers to the wedding dress that is handed down through three generations of women. The gown in my book was initially created in 1958, and at that time, the bride wanted the dress that everyone wanted at that time: something that looked just like what Grace Kelly wore when she married Prince Rainier in 1956.
Q: Are any of your characters based on real people you know?
A: They say that your first novel is all about you, that each and every character is you, and I think that was true of my first novel. (First two novels, perhaps!) But this is my sixth novel, so at this point, all of the characters are products of my imagination. That said, everything inspires me, so parts of real life always have their way of making their way into my work. So, I suppose a better way to answer this question would be to say: no, not on purpose.
Q: Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
A: I found Joanie, in 1982, to be the most challenging to write. I first created her character while working on the 2020 timeline, at which point we only know her as Rocky’s mother. It took a lot of thought to figure out who she would be at age 20, and how she would grow into the woman we see in 2020. Additionally, since we meet her mother in the 1958 timeline, it was important that the reader see a connection there, too.
On the first round of edits, I completely trashed the original 1982 storyline and re-wrote it from the ground up. I think that I needed the first draft to truly learn who she was, and how to create her story.
Q: What did you learn when writing the book?
A: I’ve learned so much this time around, but the lesson that most resonated for me was that writing is re-writing. From the first draft of this novel to the second, the book changed dramatically, and I think that the story is ultimately better for it. But when you’re a newer writer, it’s so hard to cut things, and it’s even harder to completely trash a part of the book and start from scratch. But really, editing the book is the thing that makes it better, and ultimately, makes you a better writer.
Q: Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between?
A: I’ve always loved to write. In fact, it’s the reason I became a lawyer. But I was one of those unhappy lawyers, so for my 30th birthday, my best friend, Shawn, organized a group gift– she got all of our friends together and sent me to my first writing class. It’s the thing that helped me to take my writing more seriously, and the place where I began writing what would become my first novel.
Q: Do you have a dedicated writing space?
A: I do have an office in my house, but I’m one of those writers who just gets the work done whenever and wherever she can. In fact, I’m on my laptop right now while my kids are at the kitchen table doing homework!
Q: Any type of writing ritual you have?
A: I wish I could say that I have certain rituals and that I have a process for letting the muse in, but the truth is, I’m just a busy working mom, so I write when I can. Sometimes, I’m dictating full chapters on the voice memo app on my phone. Sometimes, I’m jotting notes on the backs of receipts. I say: do whatever works!
Q: What is your favorite genre to read, and why?
A: I love to read, and I love reading all different types of genres. I think it makes you a better writer to be more widely read. That said, I have a soft spot for upmarket commercial fiction. If Reese Witherspoon can make a limited series HBO drama out of it, I’m in!
Q: What message do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: The main thing is that I want readers to really enjoy the story and have a great reading experience. As for a takeaway, it’s been really moving to have readers reach out to me to discuss the role that heirloom items have had in their own life. I always tell my kids: it’s people who are important, not things. But I do believe that certain things, like these heirlooms that are passed down, have meaning. They show us where our family has been, and each one has a story connected to it. Stories are powerful, and the stories about where we come from are so incredibly meaningful.