In Brenda Markstein’s emotional reveal If These Clothes Could Talk, a grown daughter contemplates the path her life has taken and the choices she has made, as she deals with her mother’s recent health crisis.
The narrative moves easily between protagonist Kelly Knight’s hospital vigil for her mother, who has suffered a stroke, and Kelly’s memories that take her from small town “little desert girl” and “Survivor girl,” to “Affluent girl” and “This girl.” As it unfolds, it peels back the layers of a woman who handled the joys and struggles of marriages, children, spousal loss, bankruptcy, financial gains, and a rising social status. Ultimately, she realizes that our outer lives are just a covering of our true inner selves, noting that “we have defined ourselves with the clothes we put on our bodies and somehow forgotten what was going on in the inside of us,”
Appropriately, the story introduces each chapter with a detailed description and (usually) a whimsical illustration of clothing worn at a particular time or event. From handmade Sunday Best outfits and youthful cheerleading uniforms, to Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses and custom-made wedding gowns, they signify a timeline and showcase Kelly’s growth, as well as incorporate her love for fashion that has trickled down from her mother.
Some of Kelly’s self-reflections like “Who am I?’ and “What do I really want?” can seem cliché. And typographical errors, such as missing or misplaced words, prove distracting. Nonetheless, Markstein’s intimate voice and use of contrasting humor and darkness engage readers as the story moves from the giggles of the pink-frocked Knight siblings who forgot undergarments for their perfect ensemble, to jarring recollections of a drunken step-grandfather who validated the grandmother’s words, “You can never trust a man.” A sprinkling of thought-provoking quotes, primarily from fashion icons, appears throughout, along with two poetic ponderings.
Ultimately, Markstein’s attempt to declutter both a fractured life and its corresponding wardrobe proves an entertaining and worthwhile read.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.