Skip to main content

Red Dress in Black and White

Review

Red Dress in Black and White

At its core, this carefully plotted novel, set in contemporary Istanbul, is a meditation on how our most intimate relationships are sometimes our most transactional.

Starting as the story of an affair between Catherine, a frustrated American living with her Turkish husband and adopted son, and Peter, a photographer, it becomes a living chess game in which each character manipulates and is manipulated by their circumstances. Peter, also American, has no real ties to the country except for Catherine --- until he receives a grant from the American Embassy’s Cultural Affairs department. Overseen by Kristen, a savvy career diplomat, Cultural Affairs operates on many levels that afford her great latitude in aiding useful connections and sources. Like the country itself, all of the characters are dependent on her. Some reluctantly allow themselves to be used by her, and others are unwitting pawns.

"Though Ackerman has offered many insights along the way, it’s not until the very end of RED DRESS IN BLACK AND WHITE that those pieces fit snuggly, and the outcome is both unexpected and unexpectedly satisfying."

When Peter decides that it’s time to return home, the news rocks Catherine, her son William and her husband Murat, who has known of the affair all along. It also shocks Catherine and Kristen’s friend, Deniz, a gay museum curator who has complex connections to all the characters. What will Catherine do, will Kristen need to juggle her allegiances, and how will each character adjust to new revelations? An evening where all the players come together makes it clear just who is, and has been, running the show --- though to what end is less obvious.

Besides being an adept storyteller, Elliot Ackerman is a keen observer of the political shifts that a country like Turkey must navigate, and his descriptions of real events such as the Gezi Park protests make the setting more than just a backdrop. The reader sees a wide swath of the city’s neighborhoods and social strata, so that its very geography comes alive. While flashbacks slow down the pace of the story, they also enable the reader to collect information that will help put the puzzle together.

Though Ackerman has offered many insights along the way, it’s not until the very end of RED DRESS IN BLACK AND WHITE that those pieces fit snuggly, and the outcome is both unexpected and unexpectedly satisfying.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on June 5, 2020

Red Dress in Black and White
by Elliot Ackerman

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 052552181X
  • ISBN-13: 9780525521815