Beautiful and melancholy

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Oooof this book tore me up.

If you enjoy Gothic literature with feminist critique, this is the one.

I marked it as horror, but it's not horror in the jump-scare sense, but in the ways that upper white womanhood was a hellshow in the 1950s if you didn't fit in with societal (or husband's) expectations. It's a critique and an homage to Gothic literature, and to the fate women of a certain societal standing were expected to step into willingly.

Add art, flowers, a creepy Victorian house, grief and trauma, shades of Dickinson and Tennyson and Sarah Winchester, commentary on the gun manufacturing industry, and a gripping story about mothers and daughters and motherless daughters and headless brides with a dash of weirdness, and you get this book.

The ending was...pretty abrupt, but it worked. I don't normally like diary-type books or past-present storylines, but I was enthralled by how this one was set up, mostly because there wasn't a lot of back and forth. Once we were in Iris Chapel's life, we were in in, for good or bad, until Iris Chapel was no more and only Sylvia Wren remains.

Oh, and it's queer. It sidesteps around *some* of the issues I thought the book was going to have (chiefly, naming all men bad) and gives the briefest of glances of relationships for queer women in the 1950s...and the lesbian pulp literature that floated around. I did want more on Lola, but I can see why Walker chose to have her included as she was, even if it was unsatisfying for me. The story was not about Lola and Sylvia, but Iris and her sisters, and her mother, and all of the mothers who came before them.

I could talk more, particularly about the role of men in this book, but frankly they were not the interesting part and were only vehicles of destruction (although again, interesting commentary on men and courtship and men and marriage). Daddy Chapel was a blandly absent character focused more on work and respectability than his children (until it was too late) (although there were undertones of something...darker??? Kinda???), and the men the sisters fall for (*ahem* grasp at as a lifeline to escape their dysfunctional family) were again, plot devices meant to shepherd the girls off to their fates. Once their part was done, they vanished into their own fresh starts (for the most part).