Daughters of the Bride
Daughters of the Bride is a delightful book that contains four separate, yet interconnected love stories, all of which have a satisfying happy ending. Courtney, Sienna, and Rachel are three sisters with complex relationships who have been tasked with planning their mother’s second wedding. While most people may assume it’s the stepfather who causes the drama, the book actually focuses upon the years of miscommunications and misunderstandings between the four women. There are romances for each of the ladies, but the core of this story is the relationship between the four of them.
If you’re looking for a straightforward romance, like in some of Ms. Mallery’s other works (the Fool’s Gold series, for example), then you’ll need to look elsewhere. There are too many protagonists in this one; the focus shifts and slips between the sisters as the plot advances towards the wedding. The women are treated as flawed and fully-realized individuals, which of course means that I wanted to throttle them and root for them by turns. These women have hurt each other and loved each other for their lifetimes and sorting through that kind of history takes time.
When the girls were young, their father died suddenly and the fractured family found themselves homeless. At that point, a local hotelier opened up a room to them to allow Maggie (the mother) to get back on her feet. This period of their lives was defining and some of the issues which arise throughout this book are from that time.
When Daughters of the Bride opens, Maggie is enlisting the help of her three daughters to plan her upcoming wedding. All three really like the fella she’s marrying and are happy that after decades alone, their mother will have someone with whom to share her life. The bigger deal is that the sisters don’t really trust each other and don’t exactly function as a cohesive unit. The distrust and skepticism deeply embedded in how they view each other is truly the driving force of the novel.
So take Rachel, for example. The oldest sister, Rachel was the pseudo-mother while Maggie was trying to rebuild their lives. As a result, her relationship with Courtney, the youngest sister, is maternal, while the one with Sienna, the middle sister, is fraught. Sienna didn’t respond well to having two mothers, and has emotionally withdrawn from most relationships in her life as a partial reaction.
Outside of her sisters, Rachel’s story involves her ex-husband Greg and their son. She and Greg divorced after he had a one-night-stand for which Rachel has never been able to forgive him, but Ms. Mallery makes it clear that neither one of them has really moved on. Their divorce, perhaps, is as much of a fallout from Rachel’s extreme need for control as it is Greg’s impetuous indiscretion.
Sienna’s life is dominated by her fundraising job at a women’s shelter. She is clearly committed to the work and the narrative of domestic violence in society is handled carefully and realistically. I, as someone who has long worked with domestic violence prevention, really appreciated the small touches of reality infused in Sienna’s life. Her personal life is a shambles, however, as she is wrapped up with a dude who steals her agency in their relationship by telling her he knows best for both of them, while clearly not knowing who she really is. David, the douchenozzle, is the worst part of this book. The irony of working as an advocate for women and yet needing one herself is lost on Sienna for far too long, by the way.
Courtney’s reaction to her childhood is to keep secrets. She has a whole life her family has no idea about, one where she is a successful college student and event planner, trusted with responsibility and vision. She allows her family to believe she is a maid at the hotel where they all once lived, and suffers in frustrated silence as her mother offers her job placement pamphlets for things like massage therapy. When Quinn, a successful music producer and the grandson of her mentor, enters her life, she begins to realize that her sisters are not the experts on her life or her choices. They do not determine her direction – she does, and Quinn helps her own that fully.
While the book has third-person PoVs for all of the sisters, it does not for Maggie and so we only know her through her interactions with her daughters. She is revealed as gently selfish, a woman who got married too early, was widowed too early and was completely unequipped for the reality that life thrust upon her. While she provided a life for her daughters, she was and remains blissfully unaware of the ramifications of her choices in their lives. She reminds me of a woman who never really contemplated that her children are people in their own rights, and she seems to have spent her life confused when each daughter isn’t a Maggie carbon-copy.
This characterization of her made it hard for me to root for her, which is why I’m glad I was never really inside her head. Instead, I cheered on each of the daughters to be their authentic selves and to negotiate relationships with each other and with Maggie out of that knowledge. Those self-revelations do occur, and that’s why I’m confident in saying this book has a happily ever after.
Daughters of the Bride is recommended for anyone who likes mother-daughter books and enjoys complicated heroines learning themselves as they learn love.