A garment that brings out a glamorous alter ego in its wearers is the catalyst for change in five lives.
British author Harrison (The Grass Memorial, 2002, etc.) begins her novella-in-stories with elegant Carolyn Summerby, beloved proprietor of a haute hat-rental shop and 40ish wife of high-flying businessman Oliver. Eager to shake up the tasteful image she’s so carefully cultivated in their affluent English village, Carolyn orders a custom-tailored, red satin dress for her silver-anniversary party. But when she senses something not quite right between Oliver and Saskia, the tattooed bohemian daughter of friends who is also the hat shop’s sole employee, Carolyn is forced to let go of long-held illusions about the state of her marriage—and to relinquish the party dress. Consigned to a secondhand store, the dress next makes its way to “stroppy, stocky, sideways Monica,” who finds romance and the perfect outfit, in that order. A group-home worker whose cropped hair and butch looks belie her desire to be courted by a towering he-man, Monica at last meets her match in firefighter Fergal and shows off her newfound identity. As for the dress, it soon passes to Pauline, a straitlaced receptionist with a live-in boyfriend whose cozy domesticity is derailed by her sudden attraction to a stranger named Jane; Jasper, a popular, soccer-loving teenager who also enjoys the feel of women’s clothing; and Maurice, a committed thespian who grudgingly accepts the job of directing a community-theater production and unexpectedly falls for a cast member.
The final plot twist is no surprise, nor are others in these individual stories, but Harrison’s narration is breezy, and her characters, if at times flat, can be endearing.