Thursday, December 18, 2014

CBR VI Review #2: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

“This was truly advanced WASP: how to comfort a wronged wife and mother without acknowledging any misdeeds done or embarrassment caused by loved ones.” 

Man alive did I dislike this book. Sometimes some distance from reading a piece will dull my initial impressions, good or ill, but I still stand by exactly how much I disliked this one.

Seating Arrangements tells the story of some truly terrible people over three days at a New England island estate, preparing for a wedding.  Our principle protagonist is Winn Van Meter, one of the least sympathetic characters I've come across in recent years.  His eldest daughter, Daphne, is getting married to another well to do socialite, named Greyson (really? Greyson?).  While everything has been well planned by the bride's mother, Biddy, things still go awry, as wedding plans often do, even when the people involved aren't terrible.  

Among the sad plots going on in this, Daphne's sister, Livia, is mourning a breakup from the son of her father's greatest (and least deserving) rival; a ridiculous crush that Winn has on one of his daughter's bridesmaids; and God I don't even care enough to say more about these things in summary without ranting about them.

Some spoilers ahead, but if you actually find them shocking, or find that the book is good enough to warrant you caring about knowing what will happen, then maybe just stop here - this review is not for you.

Winn is terrible.  His feud with Mr Fenn (who's first name I cannot be bothered to look up) never actually turns into anything of substance.  The jumps into his past that I suspect were put there to make us care about him only made me hate him more.  He's disrespectful to his entire family.  And God, the sort of tryst with HIS DAUGHTER'S BRIDESMAID.  I cannot get over that, on either side of the relationship.  Agatha is a whore, start to finish, with nothing else going on, and it grosses me out so much to have them be a thing.  It never feels justified, not even enough for me to go "How can you do that to your wife.  I didn't want Biddy to get angry and throw things - I just wanted her to walk out for literally anything else in her life.  Winn is terrifically self involved, a first class narcissist with the self assurance of the nerdy looking but incredibly dumb kid who gets beat up at school every day.  He has everything and values nothing and I just wanted him to die when he fell of that damned roof.  He faces practically no consequences for his consistently bad behavior.

Livia, the other character we're supposed to give a damn about, isn't a great improvement.  She's fairly insufferable about her ideals, completely whiny and unaccepting of her breakup, and naive to a degree that I didn't think was possible.  She grows a bit by the end, which is why she does stand as an improvement, but I didn't really care more for her - just didn't actively hate her.

The only character with POV that I actually cared about was not part of the Van Meter family.  Dominique I found rounded, interesting, compassionate, and realistic.  Whenever we shifted to her I was pleased.  I would have happily boarded a plane with her back to Belgium and followed her story instead of this one.

I don't remember how this book ended up on my To Read list, probably Entertainment Weekly.  It's definitely worth skipping.  The prose is good - this is a writer who understands how to write well.  She just didn't have a story to tell that I cared about, nor characters to hold my interest.

1 comment:

  1. Have to say it's been a while since I've thoroughly enjoyed a book from start to finish. Excellent cast of characters kept the oftentimes outrageously funny entertainment value continuous. What a smart and quirky piece of fiction.... LOVED this book. Thanks Maggie Shipstead for the crazy ride!

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