Rather than attempt to write something clever, I want to start with a short excerpt from Nicholl’s book to show you just how gorgeous her prose is: (scene is daughter, Ella, thinking about her mother Fabbia’s singing)
“Sometimes Ella would surprise Mamma singing to herself in the kitchen, the soft upper notes that seemed to shimmer in the air and the harder sounds that came from somewhere deep in her throat in a way that Ella couldn’t imitate, no matter how much she practiced in front of the mirror. Fat, blurred words and long words with drawn out sounds that mingled with the steam from the saucepans so that, when Ella swallowed Mamma’s thick stew, the one with beans and garlic, she liked to imagine she was eating the stories of her ancestors.”
Incredible. That’s all I have to say about that.
The Dress is a story batting low at 211 pages but full of lyrical goodness. The plot is simple: a mother and daughter move from England to New York to start a new life. Fabbia, the mother, loves vintage clothing and opens a shop where she can work her everyday magic in sewing and alterations. Her daughter, Ella, struggles to fit in as she deals with the new surroundings, puberty, and her mother’s fanciful personality.
I’d compare this book’s feel to that of Sandra Cisnero’s House on Mango Street, though The Dress deserves even more props. It creates a magical, melt-in-your-mouth feel that’s lightly sugared with the cultures of Tehran and New York. I love how Fabbia has an Iranian background that subtly colors her perceptions of the world around her. Fabbia’s perceptions clash with her daughter Ella’s impressions in the big city world of New York and her attempts to fit in with the other teens.
Fabbia’s and Ella’s struggles to adjust to life in America and the social mores of the affluent elite paint a brilliant picture of coming of age for both mother and daughter. They move beyond petty and sometimes even ugly human behavior directed at them by neighbors and so-called friends and learn to let others in.
Honestly, this is the first self-published novel that without reservation I give five bright, gold stars. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.