I fell in love on my thirteenth wedding anniversary, and not with my husband.
The wonderful man I married (whom I’ve already been in love with for well over a decade), knew that I had been longing to visit New York City. We’ve been to upstate New York several times together (which in the autumn is absolutely breathtaking), but, despite my extensive travelling around the States, I had never been to the Big Apple itself.
As a surprise, my husband arranged a weekend getaway to celebrate our anniversary. The city did not disappoint. I fell in love with the hustle-bustle of the streets, the vastness of Central Park, and the vibe of Times Square. We were consummate tourists: we viewed the city’s boroughs and neighborhoods from atop a tour bus; we attended a Broadway show; we visited Madame Tussaud’s; we biked around the entirety of Central Park. In the evenings we dined on the city’s cuisine, sipped wine on patios, and were swept away by the brilliance Times Square’s flashing lights.
And of course, we paid homage to the lady herself. If you haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty from the ground, it is difficult to appreciate the sheer magnitude of her height. She is magnificent. As our boat circled Liberty Island, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of immigrants she has welcomed over the years, people like Mary O’Connell, a young Irish woman in Viola Shipman’s new novel The Charm Bracelet.
Mary can’t believe it when her parents insist that she leave her home and travel to America. At 17 years old, all Mary knows is her family’s tiny piece of land and how to sew. But with no jobs in early 1900s Ireland, Mary recognizes that to survive, she must face the unknown no matter how terrifying the voyage may seem. Tearful and alone, she boards the steamer headed toward a new land and her new life.
After docking at Hudson’s Pier, Mary stumbles upon a job as a seamstress where her attention to detail and skill with the needle earn her a clientele of some of the city’s most elite. Despite her popularity, Mary isn’t content until she raises enough money to travel to Michigan to join the only other family she has this side of the ocean. As a parting gift from a friend and mentor, she receives a tiny charm in the shape of a sewing machine—a symbol for a lifetime bound with family.
So begins the story of Mary and Vi, Lolly, Arden and Lauren, five generations of grandmothers, mothers, and daughters bound together by love, grief, and of course charms. Each charm—the half-heart, the hot air balloon, the dragonfly, the kite, the snowflake and others—has its own unique story, but it isn’t until Lolly shares them, in her attempt to retain her fleeting memories, that Arden and Lauren recognize and appreciate the history behind the heirloom piece of jewelry.
The Charm Bracelet is about the relationships between mothers and daughters—relationships that are conflicted, yes, but also ones that are filled with compassion and joy.
Viola Shipman is a pen name for Wade Rouse, an award-winning memoirist. The Charm Bracelet is his debut novel. Thomas Dunne Books, 2016.