The heroine in Dress Rehearsal is a bit untypical for Chick Lit in that she has her life together, at least financially. Unlike a lot of Chick Lit chicks, she’s not flaky or scatter-brained or overdrawn on her credit cards. But she has a number of other quirks which unfortunately make her less lovable than, say, Bridget Jones.
Almost a decade ago Lauren Gallagher hit a hard and bottom-y place. She got laid off from her first post-college job and broke off with her boyfriend, Neil, when he took a job in D.C. Unable to afford a gift for her friend Paige’s birthday, she bought a used copy of a Martha Stewart cookbook and baked a cake instead. The cake was a hit, and several financial risks and a lot of work later, she opened Lauren’s Luscious Licks, a cake boutique that is now the place for Boston’s posh crowd to shop for wedding cakes and tasty tortes.
But as she basks in her successes, Lauren’s life gets a little complicated. Paige is now engaged, and while she and her fiancé are selecting their wedding cake, Lauren notices that they exhibit the kind of tension that has always boded badly for her clients in the past. Paige and Steve have the same kind of cake chemistry as all of the divorced couples Lauren knows. Should she disclose her cake theory to her friend before it’s too late? This same cake theory causes further problems for her when Neil and his fiancée unexpectedly come into Lauren’s boutique and choose the same cake Lauren has mentally set aside for her own future wedding. Did she make a mistake about Neil all those years ago? Could he be the one? Their cakes align. It might be fate. But what about Charlie Banks, the commitment-shy guy who really stirs up her batter?
Dress Rehearsal is told in first-person point of view from Lauren’s perspective. Usually I enjoy this type of narrative, but it does have a certain built-in Achilles heel – if you don’t like the narrator, the book is pretty much a loss. And I didn’t like Lauren.
At first glance, Lauren seems very together. She’s educated, runs a very successful business, and is very loyal to her friends. She’s also the type of person who apparently has no qualms about poaching another woman’s fiancé. When Neil walks back into Lauren’s life and she wonders if the Might Have Been might still be, she doesn’t hesitate to feel Neil out – despite the fact that he’s happily engaged to a woman who does value him and wants to be a part of his life. It’s one thing to have regrets and to revisualize your past history together, but it’s another thing to be willing to break a couple up for your own selfish reasons.
And it’s a little hard to believe that she could ever have wanted Neil, so bland is he, and her current guy Charlie is not much better. Both of them function in Lauren’s mind as tools for her happiness and never make it to full-person status. Chick Lit isn’t romance, but romance readers should be warned that the romantic sub-plot isn’t too romantic.
Also annoying is Lauren’s friend, Robin, who runs a seminar business that specializes in pumping up already embittered woman. Robin was dumped by her husband Mark several years ago and is still utterly obsessed with him and with making him pay. She still thinks up cruel pranks to torment him on a regular basis. This is the second angry, obsessed sidekick I’ve run across in Chick Lit this year (the other being Erika in Caren Lissner’s Starting from Square Two), and their behavior is not a pretty picture to see. Robin’s behavior is: 1) tacky, 2) actually lower than Mark’s, and 3) lacking in pride and dignity. She does make some progress over the course of the book, but I have to wonder how Lauren can handle being so close to someone like this. I’d be scared of her, frankly.
Dress Rehearsal is competently written and does have an interesting theme of reconnecting yourself to your true calling and priorities in life, but that doesn’t change the fact that both Robin and Lauren desperately need integrity transplants. Nothing could change that fact, and I finished the book unsatisfied with my reading experience.