Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Magic Room: Interesting or Tearful?

The Magic Room by Jeffrey Zaslow is a series of short stories about individual brides intertwined with the bigger story of Becker's Bridal Shop and its owner, Shelley Becker Mueller. Each of the featured brides tries on a dress in the Magic Room, an upstairs bridal gown viewing room with gentle lighting and flattering mirrors.

It sounds like a downright magical experience for a modern bride who expects the entire wedding process to be a fairy tale. This is what brides today want, so Shelley delivers.

What I found most fascinating about The Magic Room was the history of Becker's Bridal shop and the evolution of brides through the years. Certainly, the brides of the 1930s didn't need all the fuss that today's young women do. Still, it's interesting to read this piece of social history, a topic I've always been drawn to. History text books are one way to learn about an era, but if you really want to get a grasp on what the people were like, books like The Magic Room will take you there. 

How did the brides of the 1950s behave? What kind of wedding dresses did they choose and why? You'll get a few answers to these questions amongst the pages of Zaslow's book.

If only Zaslow would have included more of this and less of the up close and personal stories about the featured brides. I felt a bit depressed reading these chapters that seemed to break the flow of the bigger story. They were tragedies in the midst of the fascinating success of Becker's Bridal Shop.

I can't help but think telling sob stories is a trend in our modern society as much as fairy tale weddings are.

While I root for people who've had a tough row to hoe, I always wonder where the sweet, but kind and no less deserving people are who don't have a tragic background. Or, if they do, their tragedy isn't quite tragic enough. For instance, the winner of The Today Show bridal contests is always someone with a horribly sad background story. Those fortunate enough to get Extreme Home Makeovers are the most tragic of all. Being thrifty, smart and resourceful doesn't win these days, but tragedy does.

All of this to say, I couldn't help but feel depressed for those featured brides. As someone who had a childhood tragedy, I think I can say this without bitterness. When my husband and I got married, our wedding and marriage were about us being in love and starting our lives together, not about the deaths of my father or his father and his brother. Our story probably would have made an excellent chapter in The Magic Room, but I would have never wanted it.

Sure, our past makes us who we are, but that doesn't mean we have to dwell there.

You can bet the brides of the 1930s, 40s and 50s were no less tragic than today's brides. But, they didn't dwell on that part of their lives. Being thrifty, smart and resourceful won over airing your misfortunes then.

This is why, overall, I wasn't in love with The Magic Room. I don't like to read sob stories. I don't like to watch them on TV. I know there are lots of people who do and that's why this genre does so well right now. But, me, I'll take the engaging social history and leave out the tearful tales of woe.

Check out the BlogHer Book Club page for The Magic Room for more book discussions.

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review, but all opinions expressed are my own. 


  1. Good for you writing reviews!

    Yes, the way it used to be. Hmm. Yesterday I saw a store with aprons in the window! I think about the perfect starched things that I wore under skirts to make them stick out. I think of times before very many malls when people went to town dressed up and maybe even wearing gloves. I think of never airing any family secrets.

    Over all, I like today with more common sense sprinkled with discretion and forgiveness.

    Carol, age 67

  2. I wasn't a fan of the amount of tears this book caused either.

  3. Carol - Yes! Aprons are coming back, I'm sure of it! Common sense, discretion and forgiveness go a long way, no matter the era.

    ShortWoman - Thank you. I thought for sure I'd be the only one who felt that way.

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  5. My thought is that it's never classy to trivialize tragedy, but this is your choice. The term "sob story" in itself denotes a lack of understanding of the human condition, in my opinion. Individuals have very real tragedies they must come to terms with great difficulty sometimes. I was sorry to see this in your review, but will keep reading your blog.

  6. Anon - I don't like to read depressing stories, which, to me, this book was. I don't get how using "sob story" makes me lack understanding about the human condition. That's a pretty harsh, broad criticism. Quite the contrary, I don't think being one who enjoys stories of this nature makes one have a greater understanding of the human condition. If anything, I think there's something a bit bleak about the trend of focusing on tragedies. TV shows, books and other media coverage that make it seem like a competition to have the greatest tragedy are, in fact, exploiting and trivializing people's misfortunes. It was a book about a wedding dress store. I expected more joy and did not expect to come away from it feeling bleak about the human condition.

  7. Thanks for your honest response. My criticism WAS hasty and somewhat harsh. It is your choice what you choose to read and review...I thought your review of "The Magic Room" was fair and gave an accurate depiction of the book. Any one would be able to decide if it was worth the time to read it.

  8. Thanks Anon. I know how hard it is to overcome or learn to live with something tragic in your past. As I said in the original post, my father died when I was six. It IS hard and I didn't mean to downplay that. It wasn't my intent to belittle that, but just to state that I don't really like to read this type of story and it seems to be an overwhelming favorite in our culture right now. Anyway, glad you're going to stick around!