55 pages 1 hour read

Barbara Davis

The Keeper of Happy Endings

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


The Keeper of Happy Endings is a 2021 novel by Barbara Davis that follows the stories of Soline Roussel, a Parisian dressmaker, and Rory Grant, an aspiring gallery owner, as their lives intertwine in mysterious ways in two time periods: Paris in the early 1940s and Boston in the mid-1980s. It is historical fiction with subgenres in mystery and romance. Davis uses alternating perspectives and a dual timeline, with each chapter told from either Rory’s perspective in third-person limited point of view or Soline’s in first person. The Keeper of Happy Endings explores themes such as Magic and Emotions, Grief, Loss, and Restoration, and Community and Healing.

This guide references the Lake Union Publishing paperback first edition of the novel.

Content Warning: This guide discusses anti-gay bias, antisemitism, emotional abuse, and child death.

Plot Summary

The Keeper of Happy Endings begins with Soline Roussel reflecting on her life as she goes through an old dress box of mementos; it contains a dress, a stack of letters, and a shaving kit. She recalls the life she left behind in German-occupied Paris during World War II, remarking on how different she is now in the face of many tragic losses. The perspective then shifts to Rory Grant, a young Boston woman who is going through a difficult period in her life after the disappearance of her fiancé, Matthew Huxley, who has been captured in Africa. As a result, Rory is aimless and grieving. As an artist herself, Rory had always hoped to fulfill a dream that Hux ignited in her, which is to open an art gallery to display the work of up-and-coming artists. She sees an old row house in Boston that catches her attention and can’t shake the feeling that she is meant to pursue the building as a location for her gallery.

The row house belongs to Soline and was the location of her bridal dress shop for many years before a fire destroyed the building. Soline agrees to allow Rory to lease the building as she has no use for it anymore. Soline reflects on her family’s bridal business, which originated in Paris, France, and has a long history of providing custom gowns to brides. They aren’t ordinary gowns, however; the Roussel family infuses magic into the seams of each dress and promises a happy ending to the bride who wears it. The craft is called The Work, and it is a magical craft, called la magie or magick, which has been passed down through the Roussel women for generations. Soline recalls when the Germans invaded Paris in 1939 to begin their occupation while her mother, Esmée or Maman, became sick and was dying.

The narration shifts back to present-day Rory, who happens upon a Roussel gown in an abandoned box beneath the stairs of the row house. It is the dress box that Soline was going through at the beginning of the novel, and Rory reads the letters from happy brides who are writing to thank the Roussel women for the gowns. Rory connects with Soline to return the items and they begin an unlikely friendship. Soline tells Rory about her family’s bridal business and how she lost her love, an ambulance driver named Anson, during the war and settled in America until the fire stripped her of her ability to design dresses and sew; as a result, she is now a relative recluse. Soline and Rory start to recognize similarities in their stories, with overlapping experiences as artists who have tragically lost their fiancés. Due to this connection, Soline feels that the row house will be a lifeline for Rory just as it was for her.

The novel returns to Soline’s perspective as she remembers Paris under the occupation. In 1943, Maman dies and Soline must close the shop. Paris is overrun with German soldiers and food, goods, and work are scarce. Soline decides to volunteer at a nearby hospital to care for wounded soldiers. On her first day, she meets Anson Purcell, an American ambulance driver who volunteers with the American Field Service (AFS) transporting patients. They immediately form a romantic connection.

Back in present-day Boston, Rory and Soline continue to deepen their friendship. As Rory forges ahead with plans for the gallery opening, Soline encourages Rory to keep her love for Hux alive in her heart and never lose hope that he will return alive. Rory’s tense relationship with her mother, Camilla, comes into focus as Camilla is jealous of Soline and wishes to exert her control and influence over Rory’s life.

Returning to Paris in 1943, Soline learns that Anson is part of the Resistance in France, an underground movement to subvert and resist German war efforts. While he smuggles soldiers out of France, she joins the Resistance as a courier, passing messages to other Resistance workers. When Anson is discovered by the Germans, he demands that Soline flee to America where she will be safe, promising to return to Rhode Island and marry her when the war is over. Anson sends her to live with his family, the Purcells, and while there, she learns that she is pregnant with Anson’s baby. Badly mistreated and scorned by Anson’s father, Owen, she is forced to leave Anson’s family home. After receiving a telegram that Anson has gone missing in Paris and is presumed dead, Owen sends Soline to a facility for unwed mothers and forbids her from telling anyone of the pregnancy. In present-day Boston, Soline tells Rory this story and then explains that when she gave birth, the nurses told her that the baby, whom she named Assia, was too small to survive. Soline explains to Rory how she moved to Boston to get back on her feet and eventually opened the dress shop called L’Aiguille Enchantée (The Charmed Needle).

Rory continues to prepare for the gallery opening and is out shopping with Soline when they run into Camilla at lunch. Camilla is rude and unwelcoming to Soline, clearly threatened by her presence, and this causes Soline to retreat to her home and disengage from everyone. She thinks back to the 1981 fire that destroyed her dress shop and left her unable to work and performs her usual ritual of opening the dress box to remember Anson and the dreams she once had.

In an attempt to make amends with Soline, Rory tries to find a photograph of Anson for Soline to remember him by. Rory then discovers that Anson did not die in the war. He is alive but was badly injured in 1944 when he was captured by Germans in his ambulance and left for dead. When Soline connects with Anson’s sister, Thia, Rory discovers not only that Anson is alive, but also that they are related; through a magical twist of fate, Anson is her grandfather, Soline is her grandmother, and Camilla is the baby, Assia. The baby did not die but was instead adopted in an arrangement orchestrated by Owen, who lied to Anson and told him that Soline wanted nothing to do with him after he was injured. Soline knew nothing of the arrangement and has presumed that both the baby and Anson have been dead for 40 years. Rory shares the news with Camilla and they make amends but decide to keep the family information from Soline for now. Rory, Camilla, and Soline grow close as the gallery opening approaches.

Rory finds Anson and informs him that he has a daughter and granddaughter. He does not react well initially, mistakenly believing that Soline left him and married someone else. Anson does eventually come around and seeks Rory out on the night of the gallery opening. Soline is not aware that he’s alive, and when they see each other at the gallery, he retreats immediately, causing Soline to isolate for days.

Thia, Camilla, and Rory visit Soline and share all the details of the story, which leads to their collective healing. When Anson visits Soline, they discover that it was in fact Owen’s deception and a misunderstanding that Soline had married that kept them apart all these years, and they reconcile. Anson also tells Rory that he has received information that Hux is alive and has been freed from capture. The novel concludes with Soline and Anson’s wedding the following spring as each character gets their happy ending.

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