Book Review: The Magic Room by Jeffrey Zaslow

In The Magic Room, storyteller Jeffrey Zaslow dazzles readers with a love story for every parent.


If the mirrors of the Magic Room could speak, they would have compelling tales to tell about love, life, parenting and marriage. Instead, Wall Street Journal columnist and author Jeffrey Zaslow has given them voice in his engaging new book, The Magic Room: A Story about the Love We Wish for our Daughters.

This new book (Gotham Books, January 2012) tells the story of four generations of a family who have run Becker's Bridal Shop in Fowler, Michigan since 1934, a shop that has become a destination shopping experience for brides in the Midwest. Fowler only has a population of 1,100 residents but behind the shop's doors are some 2,500 wedding gowns, "more wedding dresses per capita than any other municipality in the United States, or perhaps in the world," he writes.

An estimated 100,000 women have passed through the shop, trying on gowns and seeking advice first from Grandma Eva, and then from successive generations of Becker sales ladies in search of the perfect dress that reflects their dreams, lifestyle, and budget. "The Becker's building, meanwhile, is crammed not just with dresses, but with history," writes Zaslow.

The author follows eight women who have stood on the circular pedestal in the Magic Room, once a steel vault in a former bank, which has been transformed into a fairytale setting with infinity mirrored walls, gold paneling, and soft lighting. This rich, multi-layered story reflects on the history of brides and marriage in America amidst shifting values and cultural mores -- and powerfully describes the emotional relationships between fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, and women and men.

For the bride who is about to marry, the "Magic Room" is the centerpiece of the shop, the place at the top of the stairs where she tries on her final selection of the wedding dress she'll remember for the rest of her life. From the perspective of the business, this is the intimate space where emotions soar and sales are clinched.

Few people can tell stories with as much heart and feeling as New York Times best-selling author Zaslow, who previously collaborated with Randy Pausch on The Last Lecture; Chesley Sullenberger on Highest Duty; and Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, on Gabby. In my opinion, few men can tell the stories of women with the depth of understanding that Zaslow brought to The Girls from Ames and now brings to The Magic Room. Perhaps, being a father to three young women and sounding board for tens of thousands of readers of his newspaper columns over 24 years has given him the requisite trench experience to speak for them.

Zaslow doesn't shy away from the hurdles and tragedies of romance. Stories about the spectacular promise of wedding days wouldn't be complete without mentioning the rough passages of adolescent love, the emptiness of losing family members, the trauma of weddings postponed or cancelled, and the disappointment of marriages that wind up loveless or in divorce. Each of the eight stories, as well as the one of the Becker brood, reads like a brief memoir -- of the emotional lives of women of different ages and circumstances.

As a mother, this beautifully written book by a wise and gifted storyteller had me spellbound. It was hard to put down because the series of love stories, like the bow on a wedding gift, are all tied together by a magical moment in a magical place. In the book's introduction, Zaslow writes, "...on the very first day I visited Becker's I truly sensed that this was a place that could illuminate the most poignant aspects of a woman's journey to the altar." This wonderful author has done just that.