The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman (Thomas Dunne 2016) $26; 298 pp.
For every milestone day that Lolly Lindsay had, she received a special gift. Her mother started the tradition by giving Lolly a charm for her bracelet one birthday; that charm, like each to come, signified a dream or a wish, and was accompanied by a special poem meant to remind Lolly that she was loved.
Over the years, the bracelet became heavy with metal and memories — the summer before her mother died, the boy she grew up to marry, the best friend she cherished — and when she had a daughter, Lolly started the tradition with her own little girl.
Always a pleaser, Arden was exasperated with her mother. Even as a child, she was embarrassed by Lolly’s free-spiritedness, her sense of style, and by Lolly’s idea of what was fun. As soon as she could, Arden moved away from her mother’s Michigan home to live a button-down Chicago life that was comforting to her. But now, in the twilight of Lolly’s life, Arden felt guilty for not spending more time with her mother – or her daughter.
Graduating with a degree is an accomplishment, but Lauren wished she could tell her mother the truth: she really wanted an art degree, not a business one. Lauren knew that her mother worried about money; Arden, come to think, worried about a lot of things, which was maybe why Lauren was closer to her grandmother. She and Lolly were like two peas in a pod. Like two charms on a bracelet … one of which was quietly losing its luster.
There’s a basically good premise to the story inside The Charm Bracelet. Sadly, that story begs — pleads — for help. Reading this book is rough: names are employed to a frequency that’s distracting and pronouns are at a premium. The female characters “jump up and down” a lot and it seems as though somebody’s crying more than they’re not; as for the male characters, one’s a stereotypical Mean Dad, one is predictably hunky (do you see where this is going?) and a simple farmer-type is honest-to-goodness called “Clem.”
I whined a lot while reading this book and I might have ditched it, were it not for the above-mentioned basically good premise. Author Viola Shipman (a pseudonym for gay memoirist Wade Rouse) offers a sweet generational-family, cabin-in-the-woods story told through memories and jewelry, which could’ve been really cute. Alas. …
I think that, if you can overlook the flaws and not-so-charm-ing facets, you might really enjoy this mother-daughter-granddaughter story. If those things bother you, though, The Charm Bracelet is a gem that’s awfully tarnished.
— Terri Schlichenmeyer
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2016.