Book Review: ‘The Magic Room’

Ed. Note:Magic Room author Jeffrey Zaslow died in a car accident on his way home from an event promoting the book in Petoskey, Mich., after this issue went to press. He was 53.]

In The Magic Room (Gotham Books, $27), bestselling Michigan author Jeffrey Zaslow stakes out the very feminine world of Becker’s Bridal, in Fowler, Mich., a dot on the map near Lansing. Run by the same family since 1934, this wedding-gown wonderland is crowded with brides-to-be, their eager-to-please mothers and friends, busily tapping cell phones. Escorted to the “Magic Room” to try on her final selections, the young woman stands on a pedestal in a space filled with flattering lighting and wall-to-wall mirrors. Frequently, mothers —and the occasional father — cry.

Zaslow (co-author of The Last Lecture and author of The Girls From Ames) reveals the hopes and expectations of several brides-to-be, intertwined with a fascinating history of Becker’s Bridal, whose female owners smartly adapted to changing American mores.

Current owner Shelley Becker Mueller, likable, hard-working, and divorced, could tell her customers about the difference between a wedding and a marriage. No one asks, though. This generation of brides is obsessed with the pageantry of a wedding ceremony; the search for the “perfect” wedding dress takes on enormous importance — and it can bring out the beast in a bride. Years ago, reflects Shelley’s mother and former Becker’s owner, Sharon, “daughters didn’t display the cussing and disrespect” toward their mothers as they do now.

Photographs © Kelly Lynne Photography

Zaslow and Becker’s staff trace the bad behavior to such factors as bridal reality shows (Say Yes to the Dress) and a glut of “only” daughters in today’s smaller families. These women are accustomed to being the center of attention. Zaslow bypassed the “Bridezillas” to interview a possibly more thoughtful group of women, who often struggled on the journey to the Magic Room. There’s Megan, who experienced a terrible accident one week after she became engaged; Meredith, 39, and marrying for the first time, after a frustrating search for a partner; widowed Julie, finding love again and returning to Becker’s for her second gown; and beautiful Erika, who refused to kiss until she became engaged — appropriately, to a Marine who vowed celibacy until marriage.

These stories are touching. They give some affirmation to the jacket blurb’s gush over the “true magic” experienced by generations of Becker’s shoppers. But this book’s cautionary tale is striking. This media-saturated generation seems all too eager to star in a personal and glorious wedding production. The Becker’s staff reminds brides that purchases are final. Life offers no refunds, either, to women so attracted to wedding reality shows that they sometimes lose touch of what’s real.

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