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Friday, June 20, 2014

Seating Arrangements: A Novel

Since I loved Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead's newest, so much, I decided to pick up Seating Arrangements this week. I am so glad that I did.

The Van Meter family is about the celebrate the wedding of their eldest (and very pregnant) daughter Daphne at their beach home in New England. What is normally a very quiet retreat for the patriarch, Winn, soon descends into wedding madness and familial strife of the WASPiest kind. Winn and Biddy's youngest daughter Livia has recently had her heart broken by a family friend in a horrid manner, Winn has a crush on one of Daphne's bridesmaids, and the groomsmen are a group to behold. Ah--do hear the bells?

Nothing screams "discord" like a group of White, old money New Englanders with names like Muffy, Greyson, and Biddy. And a lot of Bloody Marys. Like, a lot. I loved this book for the same exact reasons why others didn't--because it is about the closest thing to honest WASPiness I have read in contemporary literary fiction. (To be clear, I don't count Edith Wharton as "contemporary," but I feel that she is a good counterpart to this portion of Shipstead's [soon-to-be] cannon.) I loved how absolutely important everyone's crises were in this book--heartbreak, life choices, joining exclusive golf clubs, pressure to become a lawyer rather than a marine biologist, whether or not to have an (absolutely ridiculous) affair with your daughter's bridesmaid in the unfinished house of your (perceived) rival. It is beyond hilarity to me because it is so far removed from my life as a graduate student/former theatre administrator in New York City. #canyoufeelmeladiesandgents?

There is so much to say. The names of the characters slayed me. The grudges that are held over such petty things like supper clubs and membership and houses and happiness are delightful. Reading this book was almost like watching a reality television show based on a group of people that would never deign to be caught dead on such guache fare. I think it's a credit to Shipstead's abilities that she could create such despicable characters with such heart and not make them into the caricatures that most certainly could have easily become.

Hard copy below.

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