VINTAGE by Susan Gloss
In Vintage, a debut novel by Susan Gloss, three women’s lives intersect at a vintage clothing store — and all of them are at a personal crossroads.
Violet, the store’s owner, is thirty-eight, divorced, and childless – but at least she has her beloved store, Hourglass Vintage. April, her assistant, is unwed and pregnant at age eighteen. And Amithi, a customer, has spent her life in an arranged marriage, but has recently discovered her husband was unfaithful to her.
Vintage is set in motion when Violet learns that the building in which she runs her beloved store is being sold. She’s always believed that she was paying rent with an option to buy. When she served with a notice that she must either execute her option to buy or vacate, she seeks counsel from her friend Karen, an attorney. Karen is in her late thirties and recently married with a baby. Seeing her gives Violet a pang – a reminder of what she doesn’t have in her life, and probably never will, “Considering the thought of getting married again terrifies me, and that I’m not even in a relationship.” Still, “Violet has coffee, had drinks, and sometimes, even dinner or sex. She met intellectual men and international travelers. Men who were boring, boorish, or both. Men with graduate degrees, men with kids. It had been a long time since she’d been truly interested in anyone.” This changes when she meets Sam, a man who remembers her from her home town. In the midst of all the turmoil, she wonders if something real just walked through the door. And if so, can she put aside her disappointments and self-protection to give it a chance?
Meanwhile, April is suffering from a difficult breakup. A senior in high school, April was in the middle of scholarship applications when she found herself pregnant. While her pregnancy had been unplanned, it came on the heels of her mother’s sudden death. There was no question she would keep it, and her boyfriend Charlie happily proposed. When Vintage begins, she is trying to return the wedding dress she bought. Later, we see how Charlie’s snobbish parents put so much pressure on the couple, they cracked. April learns that her wedding has been cancelled by a note in the mail “engraved in black ink of Strathmore cotton cardstock.”
When we meet Amithi, she’s struggling with her newly married daughter who is rejecting the tradition Indian values by which Amithi has lived her entire life. This is doubly painful because Amithi has recently realized that her husband has betrayed her. While entered into the arranged marriage and dutifully spent her life as a good Indian wife, he spent decades sleeping with an old girlfriend. Amithi makes regular visits to Hourglass Vintage: “Each time she came, she brought a larger haul of items to sell, as if purging her closets could purge her past of all secrets and lies.” In the course of reading the book, I fell in love with all three women. But Amithi became my favorite. The details of her Indian traditions – and her commitment to them — make the betrayal by her husband all the more potent.
Each woman’s story unfolds gradually, in a way that makes them rich and emotionally powerful. And at the center of the book, Hourglass Vintage is a character in itself. Every chapter opens with an inventory listing of a special item, and you will find yourself rooting for the store as much as you are rooting for and invested in Violet, April, and Amithi.
Of course, few books are perfect. My one complaint about Vintage is that it could have been tighter in spots – there is a bit of repetition. But this is a minor issue. I adored this book. It gave me the bittersweet experience of satisfaction at the end, coupled with the pang of regret to say goodbye to these women I’d come to adore.
Check back on Tuesday, when talk to author Susan Gloss about her real-life inspiration for this novel.
Vintage by Susan Gloss
HarperCollins Publishers/March 25