I am on an Awesome Book ROLL right now. After reading about the book on the big BANG studio blog (they know the author!), I immediately reserved a copy of Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. The library took weeks to locate it for me, but finally, on one glorious afternoon, I received one of those emails in my Inbox that always makes me giddy: “Hold Available for Pick Up.” I popped by after work and hunkered down with a heaping plate of pesto couscous and four hours later, I was trying to convince myself “just one more page, and I’ll go to bed.”
The book is about a WASP-y Connecticut family on the weekend of the eldest (pregnant) daughter’s wedding. Shipstead writes mainly from the perspectives of the father (an aging, mid-life crisis patriarch) and the youngest daughter (a recently broken-hearted, angsty Harvard student). The narrative occasionally offers insight into the minds of the other characters, coloring the story with perspective and interpretation. What could so easily default into some trashy novel that “sheds light on the gritty underbelly of the upper class,” Seating Arrangements instead is this awesomely human novel. You’re not rolling your eyes at the father’s passions for his daughter’s friend (no matter how cliche that usually is). You’re not labeling the mother as a Stepford wife or her persistently drunk sister as the token comedic relief.
Shipstead’s brilliance is in the way she makes the archetypal characters believable and so utterly relatable. You understand why Livia is so fixated on getting over Teddy by flirting with the best man. You’ve been there when Biddy explains that while she’s decided to look the other way, she can’t take it being flaunted in her face. God, even their NAMES are so trite, so typically “preppy,” but you DON’T EVEN CARE! The book is that good! It is beautiful and tragic and magic and real in a similar way that American Beauty was all those things. Because you see your neighbors in these characters. You wonder how many people actually do go through these things. And you just can’t get enough of it.
Photo credit: Julia Hui Photography