Reviews

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

From Goodreads: “Winn Van Meter is heading for his family’s retreat on the pristine New England island of Waskeke. Normally a haven of calm, for the next three days this sanctuary will be overrun by tipsy revelers as Winn prepares for the marriage of his daughter Daphne to the affable young scion Greyson Duff.  Winn’s wife, Biddy, has planned the wedding with military precision, but arrangements are sideswept by a storm of salacious misbehavior and intractable lust: Daphne’s sister, Livia, who has recently had her heart broken by Teddy Fenn, the son of her father’s oldest rival, is an eager target for the seductive wiles of Greyson’s best man; Winn, instead of reveling in his patriarchal duties, is tormented by his long-standing crush on Daphne’s beguiling bridesmaid Agatha; and the bride and groom find themselves presiding over a spectacle of misplaced desire, marital infidelity, and monumental loss of faith in the rituals of American life. ”

What better way to end the summer wedding season than reading a satire on summer weddings. In this case, the wedding in question is the quintessentially WASP Van Meter wedding. Winn, patriarchal father of the bride, is less than thrilled with bride Daphne’s “condition”. In his opinion, and his is the one that matters, as a Princeton educated women marrying a Princeton educated man, she should have at least figured out how to use birth control. When his wife informs him that she wanted a baby regardless of marriage, Winn is appalled at Daphne’s lack of consideration for his image. And don’t get him started on his daughter Livia’s behavior…

And so begins the wedding weekend between the Van Meters and the Duffs. The wedding is fraught with over-privileged, ill-behaved relatives, with two of the primary perpetrators being Van Meters themselves: Winn and Livia. Winn’s increasingly ridiculous behavior continually threatens the precisely planned ceremony, while further ostracizing him from the house full of women in which he finds himself residing in. As it turns out, Winn is Winn’s biggest threat to his social standing, though certainly the irony is lost on him. Dramatic, heartbroken, whale exploding Livia is just icing on the cake…

This novel is hilarious, though I did not necessarily find it deeply moving. I did, however, find it to be a wonderfully witty social satire comprised of beautifully written prose. The main character may be a morally compromised, self-aggrandized cad, but life from his perspective is fascinating (if a tad delusional), as are many of the side characters in Maggie Shipstead’s impressive debut (more impressive given how young she is – young, in this case, is defined as the same age as me). Seating Arrangement is delightful, delicious, and intelligent novel. The only way I would’ve enjoyed this literary beach read more is if I had actually been on a beach. Bottom line 4.5/5.

Looking for something similar? Check out That Old Cape Magic or The Marriage Plot.

While I am not fond of shellfish (a mockery of my New England ancestry), I am fond of muffins. Winn, after being knocked off his bike, loses his muffins (literally). So naturally I am inclined to recommend a muffin to accompany this novel. One of my favorite muffins is a Banana Pancake Maple Muffin (yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds). And maple makes you think New England, right? I am perhaps stretching it a bit…

Photos: goodreads, williams-sonoma.

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  • http://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.wordpress.com booksaremyfavouriteandbest

    Looks like my kind of book. Adding it to the list.

  • http://gravatar.com/booksnyc booksnyc

    I read this over the summer and loved it – it is smart and satirical at the same time – a great combo.

    • http://taftandco.wordpress.com Rory O’Connor

      It really was. I recently read Penelope and thought it was a good New England satire, but Seating Arrangements was so much better!

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