The Seamstress by Frances de Ponte Peebles is set in 1930’s Brazil around the lives of two sisters with an amazing skill of sewing and tailoring. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all its about. Somewhere almost 300 pages into the novel did any sign of plot actually start to form. Peeble’s way with words are magical with the way her descriptive writing brings life to the setting. But it seems that she focused more of her energy on the description, rather than the story. It was almost 80 pages into the book before I saw even a hint of dialog.
The novel follows two sisters, Emilia and Luzia de Santos from their childhood growing up in the mountains with their Aunt Sofia. Luzia is nicknamed “Victrola” due to an accident that mangled her arm. Despite this, she is the better seamstress of the two sisters. During their teens, a rowdy gang leader, The Hawk, is smitten with Luzia, and soon forces de Santos family to sew entirely new uniforms for his gang. That same night, The Hawk and his crew kidnap Luzia and she slowly becomes one of their members.
Once their Aunt Sofia passes away, Emilia unsuccessfully marries a rich city boy, Degas, and is taken to a new life in Recife, where she feels uncomfortable and out of place trying to adapt to a world of many rules and gossip. Emilia keeps tabs on her sister through a collection of newspaper articles written on the on-going crimes committed by Luzia’s new family.
Its an interesting concept, but the execution of the story is lacking substance. The pace of the story is incredibly slow due to Peeble’s Dickenesque method of writing. I started this book sometime in early June and had to force myself to finish it. The characters are well developed, but Peeble’s doesn’t really know what to do with them. In a way, it feels as if she just made up the story as she wrote, without finding a connecting thread to tie everything together. If this is simply a story about life in Brazil in the 1930’s, with no conflict, then she did a good job. Other than Emilia’s mother in law, the only other villian is The Hawk, but as the story progresses, we see he is more of a Robin Hood of the oppressed. The story does eventually pick up at about 350 pages into the novel, but I don’t know who has the patience to sit through 300 pages of description.
FINAL GRADE: B-