"The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals," Wendy Jones' playfully poignant debut, blossoms out of an irresistible premise. The titular Wilfred Price, 27 years old and still a virgin, momentarily loses his head in the presence of the provincial doctor's daughter, Grace Reece, whose lithe body, encased in such a lovely yellow dress as she serves him dessert over a picnic blanket, causes him to absurdly blurt out a marriage proposal on the spot. Before he can think better of it, she accepts.
"He wasn't able to meet her eyes," Jones writes; "he'd been gazing at her waistband when he'd inadvertently proposed in a shame-faced way. It wasn't that he had intended to get down on one knee - he hadn't intended anything at all. What he had meant, if only he could have said it, was, 'How do you get out of your dress?' "
This being rural Wales in 1924, however, such an offer is not so easily retracted. With wit, compassion and spot-on prose, Jones constructs an engrossing period drama, as Wilfred attempts to extricate himself from his blunder and truly falls in love with Flora Edwards, whom he meets on the ostensibly unromantic occasion of her father's death but is able to woo nonetheless. Jones expertly conjures the speech patterns, mores and physical details of a bygone world in this remarkable debut.