These days it’s difficult to trip over a pink covered book without hearing talk of chick lit’s death. But, how fatal is this death? Is it the same sort of plague westerns fell victim to, when a genre that was once all powerful disappeared from bookstore shelves? Or, is it more like the nuclear winter Hair Bands of the 80s faced when a glut of pretty boy groups perished under Seattle’s influence with only a couple of bands proving to have talent and staying power?
What hope is there for this admittedly bloated genre of fiction? While the one-thousandth retelling of a plucky single girl in the city, who drinks trendy cocktails and lusts after an obvious cad doesn’t hold appeal, the much boarder spectrum of chick lit does. There are still stories to be told, and, quite simply, there is a need for a fictional medium for irreverent young women and the third wave feminism issues they face.
The cover of Whitney Lyles’ new novel is pink, the font is whimsical, and on the inside, the heroine, Cate Padgett is a spirited young woman. Here Comes the Bride is easily chick lit, but what it isn’t, is set in Manhattan, with the publishing industry as a backdrop for the story, nor is it overflowing with Cosmopolitans. Cate is a kindergarten teacher in San Diego, in close proximity to her family and the occasional margarita. Cate is also the much put upon bridesmaid from Lyles’ debut Always the Bridesmaid. Here Comes the Bride is Cate’s turn at a walk down the aisle. At story’s opening she’s happily settled with childhood friend-cum-boyfriend, Ethan, and wondering when he’ll ask the big question.
After a weekend wedding in Mexico, a bout of food poisoning, and an encounter with an equally poisonous ex-girlfriend, Janet, Ethan does propose and the meat of Cate’s story begins. The planning of Cate and Ethan’s wedding, from the hunt for the perfect dress, to tasting the cake, to the endless pre-wedding functions serve simultaneously as the forward action and the backdrop of the story. Lyles well understands that wedding planning is about so much more than getting a bride and groom married and therefore she uses the wedding planning as a stage for the people in Cate and Ethan’s lives, and at times Cate and Ethan, to display the best and worst of themselves.
Cate, four times the bridesmaid, is determined to be the coolest bride ever to her own bridesmaids. It isn’t long, however, before she discovers that sometimes being a bridezilla is the only way to accomplish anything. Cate’s mother, Connie, a deeply religious woman, is constantly at odds with Cate over everything from serving alcohol at the wedding to Cate and Ethan moving in together prior to the ceremony. Cate’s dealings with her mother are both powerful and complicated and not resolved in tear-jerking fashion. Ethan’s cousin Denise is made a bridesmaid in an act of goodwill and soon becomes the most dreaded of bridesmaids: the kind that just doesn’t care. Denise’s purpose seems to be to make Cate crazy and question herself, something Denise does handily. The ex, Janet, continues to pop up at the most inopportune times, like at Cate and Ethan’s engagement party. Janet’s re-immergence into Ethan’s life is a bit of sticking point. She’s awful enough, and transparent enough, to question why good-guy Ethan would have been involved with her in the first place. It’s further difficult to understand Ethan’s blindness to her actions and dogged pursuit of him as his wedding day approaches.
At times, Lyles lacks subtlety in her storytelling and fluidity to her prose. The stiff sentences, however, are more easily overlooked than the red flags. The less than subtle happenings, such as when Cate ponders the wisdom of eating lettuce in Mexico or when Cate begins a flirtation with a hot surfer, are like being fast-forwarded to a turning point or conclusion versus being seduced into taking the journey with the characters.
In the end, Here Comes the Bride overcomes Lyles’ often stilted prose on the strength of her willingness to lay truthful—and sometime painful—emotions bare. The real plot in Here Comes the Bride is the subtle emotional warfare that comes with the merger of two lives and two disparate families. Cate’s continuing journey easily stands alone for those who have not read Always the Bridesmaid and will engage readers who’ve been with her from the beginning. Lyles and her brand of West Coast chick lit make a compelling argument for the long life and good health of this genre, whatever it might become. What’s wrong with calling books, even ones swathed in pink, fiction?
You can visit Whitney here and purchase this book here and here.