In something of a departure, historical romance author Geralyn Dawson makes a foray into women’s fiction with The Pink Magnolia Club. Three women, multigenerational chums each with their own unfolding story, emote liberally as this book takes one predicable turn after another. These gals meet up for the first time in the restroom of a large Fort Worth hotel, where the Making Memories Breast Foundation is conducting the sale of thousands of used wedding dresses, to benefit breast cancer research. The treacle is spread a little thick, and may wear thin on readers by the end. Of course, there is some nice humor and an upbeat message conveyed, too, so it’s truly a mixed bag.
Holly Weeks is a 25-year-old schoolteacher whose keeper of a boyfriend, Dr. Justin Skipworth, is meeting her at the hotel for what she hopes is a "nooner". Instead he proposes, offering her a huge diamond ring and then steering her into the hotel ballroom to browse the wedding gowns while he’s at it. Holly becomes sick to her stomach and runs to the lady’s room to...ah…freshen up. He follows her, and they argue. Her refusal stuns and angers Justin. Holly insists she’ll never marry, for reasons she doesn’t see fit to discuss with Justin.
On the verge of separation from her husband of twenty-five years, Maggie Prescott is at the hotel to drop off her own wedding dress. She is miserable, missing her grown children and mourning the loss of intimacy with her husband, Mike. She’s hovering in the restroom in an effort to compose herself, but fate and hormones converge to make her misery apparent to everyone. Mike shows up at the hotel to tell her he’s leaving on an extended sailboat trip. Caught in one or more of the different stages of grieving , she needs a new friend or two.
Grace Hardeman is the older, wiser woman, flamboyantly dressed and as is soon apparent, constantly serving up a kind of Chicken Soup for Everyone’s Soul as she liberally spouts her life’s philosophies. Her loving husband Ben is her soul mate. She is volunteering at the sale, but happens to be using the restroom, along with Maggie, when Holly runs in. Grace quickly assesses everyone’s situation and decides to take everyone under her wing, suggesting that the three women go for some chocolate cake in the hotel lobby.
That marks the beginning of the relationship of these women. Before long they are thick as thieves and well versed in one another’s business. (To think I have neighbors I’ve never even met!) Maybe I am jaded, but when is the last time you formed a lasting and emotional bond of friendship with the lady who loaned you some toilet paper from the neighboring stall in a public restroom?
Justin is in some ways at the mercy of Holly. In an increasingly frustrating plot line, Holly refuses to tell Justin why she won’t marry him. Who would blame him if he did give up on her? Mike and Maggie struggle to understand the life changes that seem to drive a wedge between them, but all of this pales in comparison when the these characters are forced to confront life’s ultimate reality. Along the way they exchange knowledge and friendship and understanding.
There are plenty of readers out there who will appreciate the sentiments conveyed by The Pink Magnolia Club, despite the familiar feel of the material. It raises awareness for breast cancer and the good work done through the Making Memories Foundation. I especially liked how the older, wiser characters were depicted as having a lot to add to the lives of others. Still, I was a little put off by a tendency toward the saccharine throughout the book. You may read it and weep, or read it and squirm.