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My Wedding Dress: True-Life Tales of Lace, Laughter, Tears and Tulle

by Susan Whelehan, Anne Laurel Carter, eds.

Full disclosure: this reviewer is not married, nor is she engaged. Her Mr. Wonderful took one look at her weekend reading ­– i.e., these two books – and wisely retreated to his study. She has assured her parents that when the time comes, she’ll have the good sense to elope.

My Wedding Dress, an ambitious anthology about that fateful garment, started when Anne Laurel Carter put the call out to Canadian women writers to “weave their family history into the memoir of the dress.” Carter and her partner in crime, Susan Whelehan, shuffle the lucky 26 stories into categories entitled “Something Old,” “Something New,” and so on. Contrary to the author’s introduction, these are not “natural” categories, just obvious ones that miss the opportunity for a larger conversation about those family histories and the significance of the dresses.

Rosemary Hood’s “Two Suits and a Closet,” about wedding her female partner in her eighties, is a notable highlight here, as is Ami McKay’s sly, snappy “No Shoes Required,” telling of her search for a man who will recite his love through Lord Byron. Anita Rau Badami’s piece, “Bridal Pink,” opens the book to customs and gowns outside of the traditional Western white. These three pieces are lean and cleanly told; these are brides you know.

Not so for the others, many of which have a breathless, romantic quality most readers may find tolerable only in small doses. The importance of the experience isn’t in question; the problem is the unvaried manner in which these stories are told. Repeated themes include second marriages that stick, mothers who meddle, Prince Charming, fate, and how each bride is different from all those other brides more obsessed with the right dress than the right man. Favourite devices include the extended metaphor, used mostly to capture the transformational power of fabric. Suffice it to say that there really is only so much lace, laughter, tears, and tulle a girl can take before hitting a point of saturation.

Siri Agrell’s book Bad Bridesmaid is just the sour soother one needs after My Wedding Dress. Here, most women will find a kindred and catty spirit in stories about bridal mishaps, all told in sisterly, coffee-klatsch prose that has all the protein of a Kit Kat bar.

Agrell’s own “bad bridesmaid” experience damaged a friendship beyond repair after she wrote about it in The National Post. While her tone is light, her humility is clear, keeping this collection of nightmare bridesmaid experiences from being exasperatingly snarky. The other “bad” bridesmaids – most of them ordinary human beings faced with the exorbitant financial demands of a bride gone mad – sound like nice Everywomen with intact consciences but limited patience. Men are completely absent here, as are gay marriages or anything outside the WASP norm, but who really cares about interesting rituals and customs when bad behaviour is what truly unites us all?

Occasionally Agrell drops in a statistic to support her observations. These add a bit of fibre, but not enough to give this book any serious social-studies roughage. Bad Bridesmaid is what it is: a disposable read about women everyone knows, dealing with emotions that everyone recognizes.