Monday, April 11, 2022

Book Review: The Wedding Veil

By Jami Denison

Southern fiction is not a genre I usually read, but I was intrigued by the description of Kristy Woodson Harvey’s latest novel, The Wedding Veil. Last summer, I visited Asheville, North Carolina, and its famous Biltmore Estate, where much of the book takes place. The chance to visit the mansion again through the eyes of Harvey’s characters was too good to pass up.

The Biltmore Estate was built by George Vanderbilt over a six-year period, opening in 1895. The 250-room home was modeled on a French chateau and run like Downton Abbey, with hundreds of servants managing the home and tenant farmers working the land. George’s daughter Cornelia inherited the estate and passed it along to her sons, George and William, who eventually helped turn the holding into a public venue, complete with winery, a shopping village, homes, and hotels.

While it’s not important to know the history of the Biltmore Estate or the travails of the Vanderbilt family to enjoy the book, it does make it easier to picture the scenes that take place there. The book is narrated by four first-person narrators in different time periods: George’s wife Edith and daughter Cornelia in the early 20th century, and 20something Julia Baxter and her grandmother Babs in contemporary times. The women are tied together by a wedding veil, an important legacy in Julia’s family. It’s supposed to bring good luck in marriage to the women who wear it down the aisle, and it strongly resembles the veil that Cornelia wore on her wedding day. But Julia bucks tradition by becoming a runaway bride, rather than taint the veil by marrying a man who cheats on her. As she takes her Virgin Islands honeymoon alone, she wonders how to get on with the rest of her life without a man by her side.

It’s a question that haunts Edith when George dies unexpectedly in 1914, leaving her to run the estate and raise their 13-year-old daughter Cornelia. Through the war years, the Great Depression, and Cornelia’s personal dissatisfaction with her life, the challenge of keeping George’s dream of the Biltmore alive is the through line of Edith’s life, even after she remarries. Julia’s grandmother Babs also considers the question, as an 80-year-old widow embarking on life for a second time.

Harvey tries hard to tie these threads together, but The Wedding Veil feels like two different stories. Both Babs and Julia are starring in romantic comedies about finding love again after heartbreak. The Vanderbilt women are in romantic dramas set in some of the most challenging time periods the world has faced, living their lives in the glare of a media spotlight. While Harvey wraps up the modern women’s stories neatly, Cornelia was last seen moving to London a few years before World War II. I was left wanting to know the rest of her story.

Harvey ends the book with an author’s note that explains her inspiration for the story and gives several recommendations for people wanting to learn more about the Vanderbilts. The Biltmore Estate website also gives a timeline on the family that includes a picture of Cornelia on her wedding day. It’s clear to see why her wedding veil would inspire a well-known writer like Harvey to base a novel around it.  

Thanks to SparkPoint Studio for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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1 comment:

Kristy Woodson Harvey said...

Thank you so much for reading!! xoxo