Winnie Childs, the Shop GirlFebruary 23, 2015
Blog update: I’ve been pretty depressed, I guess? I’ve been having trouble finishing books since November, I think. And work is pretty stressful, and even though I can get pretty vehement about mental health problems being legitimate health problems, it’s really difficult to say, “hey, I spend much of my day wanting to cry, and sometimes I skip lunch because I don’t want to have to choose what to eat, so I’m going to take a sick day.” Especially if it’s unlikely a sick day will help.
Anyway. The Williamsons maybe sort of do help.
Williamsons update: It’s official. My favorite Williamsons book is Set in Silver. Sorry, Secret History Revealed by Lady Peggy O’Malley. You’re still the book that made me love the Williamsons, but Set in Silver is better.
Anyway, I reread Set in Silver, and finished it, which was encouraging. And then I read another Williamsons: Winnie Childs, the Shop Girl.
I think this is sort of the Williamsons’ Samuel Hopkins Adams book. First there’s a meet-cute on a transatlantic voyage, where Peter Rolls, son of an American department store magnate, stumbles into the room where a famous designer has set up a showroom. One of the models is Winifred Child, a last-minute replacement who’s planning on starting a new life in New York.
This is probably the least satisfying part of the book, because you don’t actually get a lot of interactions between Peter and Win. Also Peter isn’t terribly compelling. The Williamsons can create such convincing chemistry; I don’t understand why they sometimes fail to do so. Anyway, we’re told that Peter and Win like each other a lot, but before the trip ends, Peter’s social-climbing sister Ena implies that Peter is — well, not “a man of good character where women are concerned.” After than Win avoids him. It’s a very manufactured kind of misunderstanding.
The book picks up when it transfers its focus from Peter to Win, whose letters of introduction fall through, and who doesn’t seem to be able to find any job at all. Finally she resorts to Peter’s father’s department store — only after hearing that the Rolls kids stay far away from it — and becomes one of their seasonal extra salespeople. And she makes a couple of friends, and impresses people with her smarts and her work ethic, like a good heroine should, but that doesn’t stop the job from being awful. The hours are long and the pay is low, and while the store technically provides the employees with everything the law requires them to, the food is borderline inedible and they’re discouraged from taking advantage of the other benefits (benefits such as chairs). This bit was reminiscent of The Flagrant Years, in a bunch of different ways.
Then there’s some stuff where Win has to fend off suitors, and where Peter is trying in vain to find her, and where — awesomely — the impoverished Irish peer Ena’s been trying to marry goes home and marries his cousin instead. I found Win’s career a lot more interesting than her romance, and I suspect that Alice Williamson did, too. She spends so much time on Win’s progress in the store, and so little on trying to make us care about Peter and Win as a couple. The ending is pretty abrupt, too.
So, Winnie Childs, the Shop Girl is pretty uneven, but it’s a good uneven. The solid middle balances out the uninspiring beginning and end, and even though it ends on a “wait, that’s it?” note, it’s been two days since I finished it and I’m still feeling good about it as a whole. And about Alice Williamson as a whole. I’m not sure what she found for Charlie to do in this one — I’m often not sure what she found for Charlie to do — but it mostly feels like one of hers.