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A Love Story, After a Fashion

by Lois Gould

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-49053-4
Publisher: Anchor

Novelist Gould’s (No Brakes, 1997; Medusa’s Gift, 1991) memoir vividly captures both her joyless childhood as daughter of an aloof fashion-designer mother and the old New York that shaped them both. Jo Copeland, though not now a household name, was once a star of the American fashion industry. In a career spanning the years from the 1920s to the 1960s, Copeland rose from fabric cutter to the designer who brought glamour to American fashion. But while Copeland’s designs were romantic, her outlook was not. Her attitude, described with characteristic acerbic wit by Gould, was: “Sexy was wonderful. Sex wasn’t.” In her daughter’s honest and cool analysis (which the reader grows to share), Copeland emerges as a woman for whom clothes were a refuge from the facts of life. Given that Copeland pursued her career at the cost of her marriage (her husband felt he couldn’t “possess” her and walked out) and that her own mother died in childbirth, Copeland’s extreme withdrawal from family life is, if not pardonable, then at least comprehensible. While Gould infuses Mommy Dressing with bitter memories of a painful family life, her memoir lives up to its claim to be a love story. It portrays a child obsessed with a fear of abandonment and a painful desire for love and affection, realistic responses in light of the noticeable lack of warmth conveyed in the scenes of daily life depicting solitary dinners, stony silences, fiery outbursts, and intimate betrayals. The reader perceives both Gould’s struggle to bridge the gap of silence that long separated her from her mother and her painful awareness of that impossibility, along with a mature acceptance of her mother’s choices. Breezily readable yet deeply painful, Gould’s memoir captures the glamour, the mystery, and the pain of her mother’s personal and private life.(24 b&w illustrations)