A sweeping novel of family ties, long-held secrets, and the continuing search for love, The Bride’s House tells of three women linked by blood, circumstance, and the large white Victorian house in Georgetown, Colorado, that becomes home for each in turn. Though very different personality-wise, all are plain-spoken, tenacious, and eager to please, and all struggle to find happiness.
For Nealie Bent, a 17-year-old runaway whose striking looks and vibrant personality attract the eye of local miners, the newly built residence symbolizes her desire to rise above her status as a hired girl at a Georgetown boardinghouse in 1880. She has her choice of men, preferring sophisticated engineer Will Spaulding over uncouth yet reliable Charlie Dumas (and who wouldn’t, at seventeen?). Her choice, combined with Will’s subsequent betrayal of her, is the novel’s most predictable aspect.
Pearl, a shy and plain spinster of 30 in the year 1912, is adored by her wealthy father, who relies on her so heavily that he chases away potential suitors. Her decision to pursue a romance with a handsome businessman sets father and daughter against one another and transforms her life – not necessarily for the better.
And for 18-year-old Susan, an heiress growing up in 1950s-era Chicago, the Bride’s House brings back memories of childhood summers in the mountains, a time of intense peer pressure and her growing love for a neighborhood boy with big dreams. Outside politics don't play a strong role except in this section, which is set against the backdrop of the Korean War.
While the characters are recognizable types, and sometimes behave in frustrating ways – the devoted family housekeeper despairs of Pearl’s excessive timidity, too – they still have many surprises in store. The flowing style drew me in, and the emotional shifts in the plot had a way of raising my spirits then filling them with sorrow moments later.
The women’s choices are driven not just by their temperament but also by their social and financial situations and the prevailing mores of the time. “Georgetown doesn’t seem like a place where conventions matter much,” Will tells Nealie early on, but that’s never exactly true. Over the next 70 years, as rough-and-tumble shacks give way to elegant homes, the demand for silver rises and falls, and mining towns become ghost towns and then tourist attractions, attitudes loosen in some ways but not others.
As Dallas reveals in the acknowledgments, the novel’s centerpiece is based on a house that the she and her husband bought as a derelict and restored to its former glory. Her affection for it and for the region as a whole is ever-present; Georgetown, with its distinctive mountain charm, is not just a haven for fortune-seekers but also for dreamers and anyone looking to start anew.
With all three strands woven together, The Bride’s House became a more complex story than I expected from such a straightforward telling. A comfortable novel about women’s lives, it will resonate strongly with female readers, who will take away from it the pervading theme of how we’re all shaped by our circumstances but shouldn’t be defined by them.
The Bride's House will be published by St. Martin's Press on April 26th (this coming Tuesday) in hardcover at $24.99/$28.99 in Canada (352pp).