Style and Technique
Jane Smiley explores the complexities of friendship and marriage by looking at ordinary people and the minutiae of their lives, deriving meaning metaphorically from everyday details. One of the most telling metaphors of the story is a dress that has fallen from its hanger. The day the Howards move into their new house, Florence walks past the boxes and piles of clothing left on the sidewalk. Among these things is a white dress that may be a wedding dress; Florence is not sure. Tissue paper fills out the bodice; a sleeve has slipped from the hanger. Florence straightens the dress on the hanger, and then, embarrassed that she might be seen, hurries on.
This scene, trivial on a first reading, is rich with foreshadowing and metaphorical meaning. It is revealing that Florence cannot tell whether this is a wedding dress, just as it is significant that the dress—as the marriage—is shaped into fullness artificially. Something is not quite right with this dress: It has slipped free of its support, and Florence reaches out to fix it. Florence escapes quickly after straightening the dress, fearful of being seen, as later she wants to understand the Howards’ marriage but is too embarrassed to question Frannie directly. The next morning the pile of belongings is gone, except for the dress, which lies on the grass “like a snow angel.” Despite Florence’s attempt to care for the dress, it falls anyway, abandoned.