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Review: The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard

seamstressTitle: The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard

Author: Erin McGraw

Genre: Fiction; 384 pages

Publication Date: August 1, 2008

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company

Rating: 2.5 Bookmarks

Based on the author’s grandmother’s life story, this novel tells the story of a young woman who flees her husband, two young children, and ranch life in Kansas in hopes of a second chance at life as a seamstress in Hollywood, only to find it complicated by the family she thought she left behind.

The sewing aspect of this novel interested me because I enjoy sewing simple projects like pillows and window valances.  I’m not a seamstress by any stretch and have never sewed with a pattern but loved reading about the protagonist, Nell Plat, and her ability to create beautiful and intricate dresses from bolts of cloth.

Eight stitches to the inch.  For a skirt: one hundred vertical pleats, twenty-four waist darts, nine curved hip darts and four bottom hem pleats.  Five blouses to a spool of thread…A housedress for Mrs. Cooper.  A trousseau for Mrs. Horne’s oldest girl, though she did not yet have a beau…

On a personal level, I had trouble with the choices that Nell made in the novel.  I recognize that she thought she was going to improve her life by escaping to California, but abandoning two small children and her husband was just inconceivable to me–and I don’t even have kids. 

The novel moved slowly but had some unexpected plot developments.  Despite Nell’s baffling and sad decisions, I became emotionally invested in the story even though I thought she brought most difficulties upon herself with her desire to find professional success.

The book offers a peek into the lives of small-town young women who traveled to Los Angeles at the turn of the last century with big dreams to find success in different fields.  Watching Nell grow up and experience different stages of her life was intriguing, but there were some difficult and painful parts of this novel.

Because it’s based on the author’s grandmother’s life and isn’t straight fiction, by critiquing it I’m essentially criticizing someone’s life choices–something I don’t like to do.  I never walked a mile in Nell’s shoes and can’t imagine how difficult life may have been for her.  This review is purely subjective and though I had trouble with Nell’s decisions, McGraw’s writing style and narrative kept me reading.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t necessarily pass up this novel–it’s a good story about personal reinvention and the pursuit of the American Dream.

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