In this debut novel set in 1931, a corsetiere fleeing scandal starts over in a small town, where she learns more about her past and herself.
When Marion Hatley, 33, gets a letter urging a visit to her Aunt Elsie, who is dying, the invitation is well-timed. She’s just been let go from her seamstress job after a customer witnessed Marion embracing her sister’s husband, Benton Granger. Thirty miles from Pittsburgh is little Cooper’s Ford, where Marion—hoping rumors haven’t pursued her that far—will serve as a temporary schoolteacher and care for her failing aunt in the evenings. Meanwhile, Marion can work on perfecting her mother Vera’s vision of the ideal shaping garment, both flattering and comfortable: “a corset that did not so much constrict the flesh as gently remind it to behave.” Marion, a resourceful woman, soon settles into her new routine, becoming friendly with Elsie’s excellent daytime caregiver and housekeeper, Ina Lisle, and with Elder Baines (“Elder” being a first name, not signifying a church official), who was injured in World War I, still suffers from shell shock, and helps Walter, Ina’s son, with his reading. After Marion has a breakthrough with her new shapewear design, dubbed the Whisper Lift, she begins selling her work in a local shop. Marion learns essential truths about her mother (now dead) from Elsie and becomes a force for good in the lives of several people. In her novel, Castrodale draws readers in with the fascinating details of inventing and constructing Marion’s new foundation garment, a process that requires a union of engineering, creativity, and sympathy for the female body. Sympathy directed by action is a keynote of Marion’s character and plays out in the lives of several characters in significant ways. Though some elements, such as Marion’s affair with Benton or lingerie’s ooh-la-la associations, could be played for cheaper thrills, the book’s style is serious-minded and thoughtful, even lyrical: “Marion knew what it was to watch good work and be guided by it, even months and years later.”
A reflective, compassionate, and gracefully written tale about a designer that effectively uses its historical setting.