When Anita Shreve is good, she's very, very good, and when she's not good, she is boring. A few of my friends have really enjoyed this novel, and I value their opinions, so perhaps I am in the minority when I say I found "A Wedding in December" to be, at best, a ho-hum read filled with tired metaphors. Set in a post 9/11 America with the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts as a backdrop, seven former classmates, all graduates of Maine's preppy Kidd Academy, reunite for a weekend. The occasion is an intimate wedding hosted by Nora, one of the original group members, who owns a quaint bed and breakfast. Bill and Bridget, the honored couple, were sweethearts thirty years before but married other people. Now they hope for a second shot at happiness, (against some serious odds), and want to share this special time with those who knew them when they were in the throes of first love. The group had once been extremely close but, with one or two exceptions, most have not seen each other since high school graduation. There is much unfinished business to be raked-up, adding juice to the plot, including sharp memories of a foreseen tragedy and, consequently, lots of guilt shared by all.
Predictably, there is an abundance of reminiscing, fantasizing and reexamining of lives and goals as the characters discuss past and present and make some interesting discoveries. An emphasis is placed on tragedy - both 9/11 and a devastating disaster which occurred in Halifax Nova Scotia during WWI are brought into play frequently, as is a disaster of another kind, a catastrophic illness. Adultery also plays a big enough role that it might as well have been a character. Ms. Shreve shines no new light on an old theme, however. I did keep feeling that she wanted to make a more profound statement about marital infidelity than the forced denouement she finally delivers. Threads are left hanging and tension is not resolved.
As always the author's characters are likeable but flawed and are limited in their development by multiple storylines. Again, nothing is new other than the mountain setting and post 9/11 world. Oddly, there is a fascinating story within a story developed here, and I found myself much more interested in this narrative than the principal one. I wish we could have gone off on a permanent tangent.
Don't get me wrong, "A Wedding in December" is not a bad novel - it fulfills all the requisites for a mildly entertaining read. However, there are so many excellent books around, in all genres, that I question the need to waste one's valuable time on the mediocre. I am a fan of the author, so I can also say that even hard core Shreve fans may be disappointed.
on October 23, 2005
When graduates of an elite prep school gather for the first time since graduation twenty-seven years previously, old secrets are revealed and passions long buried ignite. Facing the mid-life crises that plague so many, members of the class question their choices in relationships and ponder the proverbial road not taken.
The occasion that brings this once tightly knit group together is the wedding of two of its members. Bridget and Bill were high school sweethearts, but he found another love in college and jilted her. A meeting at their 25th high school reunion led to rekindled romance and he has now left his wife and daughter to be with Bridget and her 15-year old son. The wedding is urgent since Bridget has terminal breast cancer. Determined to make Bridget's last years perfect, Bill arranges a wedding with the help of fellow classmate Nora.
Nora owns a New England inn that was once the home she shared with her famous husband, a renowned poet. Now a widow, Nora is the perfect hostess arranging the details of the wedding and visiting with her former classmates, especially Harrison.
Harrison has entered the publishing world in Toronto, but marriage and two boys he adores have not extinguished the flame that still burns in his heart for Nora. Immediately attracted to her when they were both seventeen, he didn't act quickly enough and she soon became the girlfriend of his best friend Stephen.
It is the absence of Stephen and the mystery surrounding his tragic death just weeks before graduation that hovers over this group and explains why friends once so close have been estranged for more than two decades.
Adding to the mix are: Agnes, the presumed spinster who in reality has been involved in an adulterous and demeaning affair with someone they all know; Jerry, a Wall Street banker with a seemingly cold wife and a personal misfortune; and Rob, a fellow member of the baseball team who has become a world-renowned pianist.
Shreve hits all the right notes in this one as she delves into the insecurities, misgivings, and vulnerabilities of outwardly successful people. An example of her insights I found particularly penetrating was the following from page 151:
"A twenty-two year marriage is a long story, " Nora said. "It's ...it's a continuum with moments of drama, periods of stupefying boredom. Passages of tremendous hope. Passages of resignation. Once can never tell the story of a marriage. There's no narrative that encompasses it. Even a daily diary wouldn't tell you what you wanted to know. Who thought what when. Who had what dreams. At the very least, a marriage is two intersecting stories, one of which we will never know."
To further illuminate her story of the secret wants and fears within the middle-aged heart, Shreve writes a story-with-the-story that parallels the profound tragedy of the main story.
I whole-heartedly recommend this for fans of contemporary fiction.
on April 4, 2006
Like a number of authors Anita Shreve writes in the shadow of previous, highly successful novel. It's difficult to read and review this novel to without making comparisons to "The Pilot's Wife." To get the issue out of the way, the comparison is not a good one - A Wedding in December is a weaker novel on every front. The painfully stilted first line illustrates the primary weakness. Human beings simply do not speak the dialogue Shreve cooks up. Whether they're baring their souls or discussing the weather the characters use words and phrases straight out of a writing workshop which tends to grind the narrative to a halt whenever "the glaciers are receding" rears its head.
Next we have the characters. The two leads, Harrison and Nora, are remarkably unlikably characters. It seems that Shreve intended them to be likable but two more self-aborbed, selfish, chilly and judgemental characters would be difficult to imagine. Nora is presented as a paragon of virtue and desirability although the only support given for this are endless descriptions of her interior decorating and catering skills. Instead what we see of Nora lends itself more to a control-freak of the manipulative sort, her "tell me a story" line gave me the creeps by the end. Harrison has been carrying a torch for Nora since high school, a theme Shreve has handled earlier and better in "Where or When," and here goes beyond inexplicable to self-indulgent. Does Harrison really love Nora or is he just in the throes of a mid-life crisis? Shreve wants us to see a love story. I wanted to slap the two of them.
The other character given the largest size of the narrative is Agnes, the single woman who became a teacher at the boarding school the group attended and who is having an affair with the groups' high school English teacher. It's an interesting setup but Shreve strangely devotes pages and pages to Agnes's novel in progress about a surgeon caught up in the Halifax disaster. Considering this novel-within-a-novel takes up space that could be devoted to the secondary characters it's an odd choice. It also brings the narrative to a halt and comes across all-too-nakedly as a clumsy attempt to create a parallel to 9/11.
And 9/11 is the ghost that hangs over this mini-reunion. The wedding in question takes place in December 2001 and the characters talk about the "horror" and where they were when it happened. Unfortunately they do so in the same stilted unreal dialogue that gives us "the glaciers are melting." A credible connection between the characters and the impact of 9/11 is never made so every mention begins to feel more and more exploitive. I would have welcomed less talk about 9/11 and Halifax and more from secondary characters like Bridge and Bill (the bride and groom), Jerry and Rob. Shreve goes for some easy stereotypes with her secondary characters - Jerry is an abrasive Wall Street guy and Rob is out-of-the-closet and the only one in a stable relationship, etc. He's also the only character not guilty of adultery.
Finally, Shreve's writing is often lazy. After telling us that Nora's late husband was 30 years older than her, Shreve follows up with "he was 49". Here most writers with healthy respect for their readers would hit the period key and start the next sentence but Shreve adds "and Nora was 19." Well, duh. She has Carl Laski writing all night and sleeping all morning as his routine then 50 pages later his lifelong routine is to write in the morning. Shreve also has her female characters freaking out that their clothes will "be ruined" if they sweat. Sweaters, suits, doesn't matter. Sweating is bad for your clothes. Which begs the question of whether these people have heard of deoderant and detergent before. Naturally Nora is free from this fear - she's too perfect to sweat. All the characters play out a Yuppie parody of over-interest in material goods. They go to the outlets, they marvel at the furnishings and linens at Nora's inn, they fall into raptures over "the coffee machine in the library." Which serves only to make their ruminations on love, death and 9/11 seem weightless.
All in all, don't waste your time unless you're a fan of tone-deaf but giggle-worthy dialogue.
With her new book, "A Wedding in December," Anita Shreve once again demonstrates her skill at exploring the depths of love, heartache, guilt, and despair. This time, Shreve focuses on the wedding of Bridget and Bill, a pair of high school sweethearts who rediscover one another after spending many years apart. Bridget is battling breast cancer, and this wedding is a testament to the couple's fervent hope that Bridget will somehow be able to beat the odds. Coming together to celebrate this occasion are some of the bride and groom's former classmates from their years at Kidd Academy in Maine back in the seventies.
The hostess is Nora, a widow who has converted her home in the Berkshires into a fashionable and successful inn. The wedding guests include Harrison, who has always carried a torch for Nora, Jerry, a Wall Street banker and a bit of a blowhard, Agnes, a single woman with a secret, and Rob, a world-renowned concert pianist. The one person who is missing is Stephen, a talented athlete and popular student who died tragically twenty-seven years ago.
"A Wedding in December" gives us a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of Harrison, Agnes, and Bridget. We learn about Harrison's discontent with his marriage and his longing for Nora that has not abated with the passing years. Agnes thinks with some regret about the clandestine affair that she has been conducting with a married man for the last twenty-six years. Bridget prays that she will be well enough to enjoy life with her new husband and her teenaged son, Matt.
Adding to the narrative's poignancy is the transcript of a story that Agnes has been writing about the survivors of a horrendous and tragic explosion that occurred in Halifax Harbor back in 1917. Agnes's protagonist is a twenty-seven year old eye surgeon named Innes Finch who is in Halifax to complete his medical training. Shortly after he arrives, Innes falls in love with his mentor's daughter, Hazel, who is engaged to another man. When Halifax Harbor suddenly explodes, the death and devastation that ensue alter the course of Finch and Hazel's lives forever. Creating this story is cathartic for Agnes, since she knows in her heart that she cannot control the direction that her own love affair will take.
Shreve's characters ponder a question that is more relevant than ever in this age of terror and uncertainly: Should we selfishly seek to make ourselves happy, even if we hurt others in the process? Or should we try to be content with a "good enough" life that may not be as exciting and fulfilling as we might wish? I have always admired Shreve's thoughtfulness, her vivid word pictures that capture the beauty of nature at its most splendid, and her compassion for the human condition. "A Wedding in December" is a heartfelt and moving novel about the ties that bind us and keep us apart.
A group of 40-somethings gather at a friend's New England inn for a wedding, a mid-December affair that is fraught with secrets and stories. Histories, personal, private histories, are made clear and rewritten over the course of the wedding weekend, a weekend that should be joyous but instead is clouded with grief, loss and endings.
One character, the cancer-ridden bride Bridget, would be the center of attention in a typical romance novel. But here, her wedding day is overshadowed by her old friends. Married publisher Harrison still loves high school crush Nora, who owns the inn and is hosting the weekend. Sturdy Agnes spends her time harboring a secret passion while rewriting history in a story in her journal. Businessman Jerry rubs everyone the wrong way, but he clearly is haunted by post 9/11 life in New York City and his own marital woes. And the entire group tiptoes around the ghost of their high school friend who died a horrible, drunken death, just before graduation.
At times this book reminds us of The Big Chill. (Yes this is a wedding, not a funeral, but there is death in the air, and just as many mixed signals and sadness).
Shreve's writing style is clear and precise. There are volumes spoken in the simplest descriptions of a waitress, of melting ice on a branch.
Mostly the story is heartbreaking. The characters are facing their mortality, facing up to events they didn't experience because were too ignorant or cowardly or unlucky. The questions remain, Can you ever alter the course of your life? At what cost? When does your life's "non-stories," or paths not taken, become unbearable?
This is a book that will resonate with middle-aged readers who may be questioning their decisions. For me, a most poignant paragraph came on the last page, when one character was watching the departure of another newlywed couple.
"They had it all before them, he thought. Uncommon beauty. Thrilling risk. The love of children. A sense of rupture. A diagnosis. Relief from pain. Great love. Betrayal. Grand catastrophe."
One wonders if Shreve perhaps wrote that first, and based the rest of her tale on those very words.
on October 25, 2005
This book is hopelessly bad. It is almost as though the author combined all her previously rejected story ideas into one unappealing package. The characters have not been drawn from life and are without authenticity, charm or even passing interest. The basic premise is that a couple being married late in life invites no one to the wedding except five friends from their high school years, most of whom they haven't seen in twenty-seven years. How pathetic is that? And how unlikely! Predictable reunion interfaces occur with multiple allusions to the mysterious death of another classmate. There is no hook to this mystery which of course is fully illuminated at book end. For no apparent reason, the timeframe of the book is immediately following 9/11 instead of today. A lengthy unrelated story within a story is told through a novel in progress by one of the classmates. In fact this secondary story, written around the true event of a munitions ship explosion in Halifax during World War I, is far more interesting than the main plot. And just to drive me completely crazy, this non-English author in a story not set in England insists on repeatedly referring to the characters "tucking into" breakfast, lunch or dinner.
on October 14, 2005
In the Berkshire Mountains, Massachusetts, Nora converted the large mansion, which she shared with her famous husband Carl the poet until he committed suicide to end the pain from throat cancer last year, into an inn. Six of her friends from the Kidd Academy in Maine gather here for the wedding of two of them; the single mother of teen Bridget to her high school sweetheart Bill.
Harrison still hurts from what happened almost three decades ago in Maine though he is married with two sons. Agnes currently teaches history at the Academy and has kept a secret from her friends but relishes being able to say out loud the name of the man she loves, their English teacher Jim Mitchell. The bride has breast cancer and doubts about marrying while the groom never forgot his first love leaving his wife and daughter and alienating his family to be with Bridget. Rob and Jerry round out the magnificent seven who spend the weekend sharing what memories, regrets, and hopefully forgiveness that each needs.
A WEDDING IN DECEMBER is a well written character study that in some ways feels like a family drama as the seven former classmates attend the wedding of two of them while each ponders if they can regain paradise lost like Bill and Bridget are trying to do. Each protagonist is different so that the readers can appreciate the various personalities though much of the tale focuses on the interactions(past and present) between Harrison and Nora. In spite of the lack of action, fans of deep complex relationship dramas that cleverly look back at the past while dreaming of a future will want to read Anita Shreve's deep and thoughtful novel.
on November 4, 2005
This is the first time I have read Shreve and probably my last. This book was so boring and I had a hard time just finishing it. As stated in other reviews, there wasn't any reason to reference 9/11 so many times. It didn't fit the story. I also thought the explanation of what happened to one of their friends was ridiculous. It may have been realistic, but Shreve could have come up with something more page turning. I'll never get the ten minutes back that it took for me to drive to the libabry and check this book out.
on March 27, 2006
I found this book to be terribly depressing-not one of the main characters is content with life and even though this is a special reunion of college friends none of them seem to really like each other. They are all miserable for one reason or another and have no interest in these former friends with the exception of one man that longs for a crush he once had and seems willing to throw away a lifetime with his wife and children for a chance with her. The secrets (one character's death and another's 20+year affair with a married man) are a big let down. Neither of them warrant being a big secret, and truth be told I don't think any of the other characters would have cared. One of the characters is writing a historical-fiction novel so just as this one is moving along, "her" story begins, which sometimes takes up half of the chapter. (AND it is a depressing one as well!!) One of the spouses is snobbed because they think she is a trophy wife, then when the truth comes out that she is the VP of a major corp. they don't like her because they think shes a snob. None the less, I was hoping the book would redeem itself (I gave it 1 star because I kept reading it to the end to see if the ending would change my mind.) When I returned it to the library today the Librarian asked if I liked the book. I answered that I did not and she replied this book has had a tremendous amount of "holds" placed on it, yet when it is returned, not one reader has liked it.
I enjoyed the Pilot's Wife, but this one is not worth wasting the precious little time you have to read.
on January 21, 2007
I had this book on reserve at my local library for three weeks, and even settled for the Large Print edition, which was the first one returned. I was so excited to finally get it, and couldn't wait to read it! I just finished the book, and AM SO DISAPPOINTED! This latest Shreve offering is lacking in depth, there are too many characters, and they are very poorly developed. As another reviewer stated, they feel like cardboard. This story is trite and contrived, and the characters and their emotions and dilemmas are shallow and unbelievable. Throughout the book I was hoping to finally get to "IT"--the satisfying sense of actually knowing--and CARING about the characters, which never materialized. Even the characters didn't give me a believable sense that they cared about each other. The story felt choppy, disjointed, and hurried--but was drawn out far longer than it needed to be to tell the story; I was glad when I finally reached the last page. The time I spent reading this book was time wasted, and I expect better of Shreve that this! Hopefully, she will redeem herself as the exceptional author I know her to be, with future offerings.