Francie Meeker and Vi Carothers were sold a bill of goods: find a man, marry him in a white wedding gown, and live happily ever after. These best friends never expected to be on the train to Reno, those “lies in white dresses” shattered, their marriages over.
On board the train they meet June Samples, who is fleeing an abusive husband with her daughter, and take the vulnerable young mother under their wing. The three decide to wait out the required six weeks together, and then they can toss their wedding bands into the Truckee River and start new lives as divorcees.
But as they settle in at the ranch, one shocking moment will change their lives forever. As it brings their deceptions and fears into focus, it will also demand a reckoning with the past, and the choices that a person in love can be driven to make.
Lies in White Dresses begins in 1952. Longtime best friends Francie Meeker and Vi Carothers are traveling by train to Reno, Nevada to take the "Reno Cure." They will spend six weeks at a ranch in Reno in order to complete residency requirements for a divorce. On the train they meet a young single mother, June Samples, with her daughter Patty. June is a financially struggling abused wife, also traveling to Reno for a divorce As they settle in at the ranch something unexpected happens that changes everything.
I was interested in this book from the time I first read the description. At first it reminded me of the classic movie The Women, also about women who traveled to Reno for a divorce. That only made me more curious to read the book!
Lies in White Dresses has a wonderful collection of characters. I immediately liked Francie and Vi and their long friendship and support of each other. They are in the same position, headed for divorce, but with different backgrounds -- Vi's husband is a serial cheater, while Francie's husband is a decent man but they are incompatible. The support characters are also wonderful. June is such a sweet, genuine young woman who wants a better life but doesn't know how to start. They meet Willy, who is a bit of a vixen -- with a surprising connection to the women.
And there is Virgie. Virgie is the 12 year old daughter of the woman (also a single mother) who owns the ranch. I have to say that Virgie is my favorite character in any novel I've read this year. She reads Nancy Drew books and aspires to be a detective. She's saving money to "attend the Hector Y. Brown Private Detective Academy, which, after two weeks of intensive study, would confer on her an official certificate allowing her to work as a private eye anywhere in the state of California" (p. 14). Virgie keeps a diary where she sorts out mysteries she encounters in her day to day life. She is bright and plucky and always looking for a way to have little businesses here and there to make extra money. And she becomes a hero - although to say more would be a spoiler!
The writing in this book is beautiful. Sofia Grant does an amazing job at establishing life in 1950's Reno. I love her descriptions, like the ladies' first glimpse of the Holiday Ranch hotel:
"... The Holiday Ranch hotel was sided with white-washed shingles and trimmed with green shutters with cutouts in the shape of Christmas trees. Rustic beams hewn from the trunks of enormous trees supported the slate roof, and stripped lodgepole pine logs served as porch posts. There were wooden rocking chairs and hanging baskets of flowers and a hitching post out front, along with a decorative wishing well. The western theme continued into the parking lot on the side of the building, which was enclosed by a split-rail fence to which several sets of steer horns and a bleached white cow skull were attached. On the other side of the hotel was a garden divided by stone walkways and arches blooming with climbing roses, all arranged around a fountain, the water arcing up from an old cattle trough before splashing down into a mossy, rock-lined pool" (p. 29).
I also love the layers of the storytelling. This is a book about women's lives, about women facing adversity and making choices, about friendship. It is also a novel about the way personal history molds lives, and it is a book about love -- love between friends, between family members, and romantic love. Some of the passages in this book - especially later on - were just so beautiful and poetic that I would stop and re-read.
I absolutely loved Lies in White Dresses and recommend it highly for fans of historical fiction. This is a beautifully told and ultimately life affirming novel that is unique among other books I have read in recent years.
Sofia Grant has the heart of a homemaker, the curiosity of a cat, and the keen eye of a scout. She works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.
Find out more about Sofia at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC.