IN HER DEBUT novel, author Jennifer Dupee pulls on familiar details that locals will enjoy on many levels, and she will talk about them as the featured speaker this weekend at the Friends of Manchester Library’s Annual Meeting.
The French Bridal Shop centers on Larisa Pearl, Dupee’s protagonist, who returns to the seaside Massachusetts town of her youth after the death of her great aunt Ursula. Pearl is, as they say, in “a proper funk,” having just lost her job, broken up with her boyfriend, and she is struggling with her mother’s failing health. Upon arriving back in her hometown, Larisa passes a bridal shop, and on a whim, wanders in and ends up purchasing a wedding dress even though she has no groom. The purchase sparks rumors in her small hometown. Larisa does nothing to dispel them. One thing leads to another and, suffice it to say, small town chaos and drama ensues.
The book has been very well received, especially for a first time novelist. After launching in March, The French Bridal Shop was selected as the April pick for Good Housekeeping ’s Book Club. A plum for Dupee, a graduate of Brown University and a member of the Grub Street writing community in Boston. She was also a 2016 semi-finalist in the James Jones First Novel Competition and a semi-finalist for the 2016 Faulkner-Wisdom competition.
For sure, The French Bridal Shop is a great read. But it offers a particularly fun sideline for locals, as the setting is inspired by Dupee’s connection to Beverly Farms and Manchester.
Dupee grew up in Hamilton, graduated from Hamilton Wenham High School, and she has family riddled throughout the area. Her grandmother lived for many years in Beverly Farms. Dupee’s father was a member of the Manchester Yacht Club. Her aunt and uncle (Helen and Walter “Buzz” Burrage) live in Manchester.
The novel’s fictional town of Kent Crossing is largely based on Beverly Farms, “with a little bit of Manchester sprinkled in,” said Dupee.
“Writing for me often starts with setting, and in this case this area definitely was the start,” she said. Indeed, the initial name of the shop in her book was supposed to be “French Bridal,” taken from the local boutique of the same name at the corner of Hale and West Streets in the Farms that served brides for decades.
Historic, New England-style homes also feature prominently in the story, almost as characters all their own. The two main homes in The French Bridal Shop, said Dupee, are an amalgam of several very real grand old homes
in Beverly Farms. One is the Thorndike house on West Beach. Another was a home across the street from West Beach.
There are also references to grand, shingle style historic homes, taken from Manchester and its deep, grant shingle architectural heritage.
Other small details in the book spring directly from Dupee’s life. When they lived in Arlington, Mass., Dupee and her husband often walked along Elmhurst Road, where there was a particularly beautiful historic home the couple admired. The name of the grand home that Dupee’s main character inherits from her Aunt Ursula? Elmhurst. Another fun fact. While initially working through writing The French Bridal Shop, Dupee treated herself to a writing weekend at the Emerson Inn in Rockport, where one of the rooms was papered in a whimsical pattern of pheasants. That same wallpaper makes an appearance in her plot: it’s what Larisa takes a crowbar to in a frenzied search for a suspected leak in her new home.
In the end, none of these “sideline” tallies are required to enjoy Dupee’s excellent novel. But for those locals who like this type of backstory, the real details in Jennifer Dupee’s fictional story about a woman who finds herself in the small and charming seaside community of her youth make her novel just a little sweeter, and fun to chat about, especially with other local friends.
See Jennifer Dupee at 7 p.m. Monday, May 10 at the Friends of the Library Annual Meeting, via Zoom. Details at the library website. To purchase a signed copy of her book, head to The Book Shop in Beverly Farms.