I hope the title of Carolyn T. Dingman's debut novel, Cancel the Wedding, didn't immediately turn you off. There's nothing wrong with chick lit or the cover of this book, but neither the title nor the cover art succeed in illustrating the serious tone of this book. The publisher chose to play up "the runaway bride" aspect. I prefer to see the story as a well-written, fascinating search for family secrets. It's a mystery about one woman's past so much more than a story of a runaway bride.
At thirty-two, Olivia Hughes seems to have it all, a well-paying job in Washington, D.C., and a successful lawyer fiance. But, her father died of heart disease, her mother died almost a year earlier of cancer, and Olivia really is uncomfortable with the direction her life is taking. When Leo announces at a family dinner that he has a surprise, the date and site for their wedding is now available, Olivia panics. She, too, announces a surprise. She's ready to go to Huntley, Georgia, with her mother's ashes, to honor her wishes. What's it matter that Olivia and her older sister, Georgia, have no idea why her mother wanted her ashes scattered there? Jane Rutledge Hughes never talked about her past.
Along with her fourteen-year-old niece, Logan, Olivia sets out for Huntley, Georgia, only to discover the town is no longer there. The town had been flooded out when the TVA created a man-made lake. And, her mother's past seems to have vanished as well, although a few people remember "the Huntley Rutledges". It isn't long before Olivia finds an ally in the local newspaper owner. Elliott sees it as a local human interest story. Olivia sees it as a search for her mother's past, a mother she discovers she never really knew. And, while she's in Georgia, maybe she'll find answers to her own uncertain future.
The characters of Olivia, Logan, and Elliott are wonderful. It's soon obvious why Olivia is unsuited for life with a high-powered lawyer, with her lack of filter when she speaks, and her klutziness. It's those qualities, though, that make her likable. And, it's obvious she loved her mother, and doesn't understand why there were secrets. Even so, Olivia is determined to find why her mother wanted to return home.
Carolyn T. Dingman's first novel is a riveting story of the search for answers. She manages to make one woman's hunt spellbinding, incorporating personal elements as well as historical elements to bring to life the search and story of one town and a small group of people. I wish I could tell you more about Jane Rutledge Hughes' own story, but you'll have to uncover it step-by-step with Olivia, Logan, and Elliott. It's a puzzle, a treasure hunt through old newspaper files, library books, and people's memories. And, I found myself as moved by Jane's story as Olivia was.
Move beyond the title and the cover of this book. Yes, there is a reason the book is called Cancel the Wedding. But, as I said, Dingman's outstanding debut is about one woman's hunt for her mother's past and her own future. It's so much more than the story of a runaway bride.
Carolyn T. Dingman's website is www.carolyndingman.com. She's on Facebook at Carolyn Dingman, and on Twitter @CarolynTDingman.
Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman. Harper. 2014. ISBN 9780062276728 (paperback), 416p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The received a copy to participate in the TLC Book Tour.