Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Bride's House by Sandra Dallas

Like a big lacy white wedding cake, the Bride’s House regally presides over the rugged mining town of Georgetown, Colorado, housing three generations of women, their hopes, their dreams, secrets, and lies.

First there is Nealie Bent, a thin, freckled, red-head, who comes to Georgetown at seventeen with only two dresses and her dreams. She takes work as a servant in Mrs. Travers’ boarding house. She soon has two suitors—rough and gruff miner Charlie Dumas, and the handsome, elegant grandson of the owner of the Rose of Shannon Mine, Will Spaulding. Nealie doesn’t know that all that glitters isn’t gold, and soon falls for the fool’s gold Will Spaudling offers and finds herself seduced and pregnant by a man who turns out to be married; a fact he conventily forgot to mention.

Though he at first shuns her as damaged goods, Charlie can’t escape the truth, that he truly loves Nealie. On their wedding day when he takes her home to the Bride’s House instead of his humble miner’s cabin Nealie discovers what no one knew, the rough miner is actually a millionaire, and he has bought the Bride’s House for the woman he loves and goes on to treat her to a trip to Denver for a lavish shopping spree to furnish it. When people make fun of Nealie’s ostentatious taste—she likes red—Charlie stands up for her. All he asks is that Nealie forget about Will Spaulding, never see him again, raise her baby as though Charlie were the father, and that she try to love him. Nealie agrees. But her time in the Bride’s House is short; she dies giving birth to her daughter Pearl.

After Nealie dies Charlie refuses to change a thing and Pearl grows up in a house that is a veritable shrine to the mother she never knew. He refuses to let Pearl go, to let her live her own life, and even denies her the chance to go to college. In 1912 when she meets Frank Curry she is a thirty-year-old spinster and her father has already foiled the dubious intentions of several fortune hunters who sought the rather plain heiress’s hand. But Frank Curry just may be different. Or maybe not. When Charlie offers him $50,000 he disappears from Pearl’s life…until 1929 when the Dumas fortune has been lost and Charlie and Pearl struggle to keep up a modest existence.

The third young woman to live in and love the Bride’s House is Susan, Pearl’s miracle baby, born when she was fifty. By now it is 1950 and though the nonagenarian Charlie continues to putter around the Bride’s House it has now become mostly a summer home where Susan can run barefoot and free and forget all about Chicago high society, deportment, and dancing classes. She truly loves the big white house and longs to be the first bride to be married there in a white silk gown and the man she envisions as the groom by her side is her childhood chum Joe Bullock. But while away attending college in Denver she falls under the spell of Peter Fanshaw, an slightly older man serving in the Air Force. When Joe continues to perplex her with mixed signals, Susan tries to use Peter to make him jealous, but her plan backfires when Peter forces himself upon her and history seems poised to repeat it self.

How will it all work out? If you follow this blog you know I’m not about to tell and spoil it for you.

I really enjoyed this novel. The first part reminded me of one of my favorite movies, the big splashy MGM musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown and in the second part I glimpsed shades of a favorite novel, Henry James’ Washington Square. Ms. Dallas’ novels usually move at a good pace and this is one I would especially recommend for those who like historical novels that are not too dense and deep, the big, heavy door-stop sized type crammed full of facts and dozens of characters you have to keep track of. Her novels are more personal and peopled with captivating characters the reader can feel for or even identify with caught up in interesting situations. Of the handful I have read by her over the years, I think this is my favorite.

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