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137 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
If I never read another chic-lit summer novel again it will be too soon, so I was wary about picking this up, since both the title and the description of the book sounds as though it could lean that way. But have no fear, Seating Arrangements is not chic-lit silliness. It is a beautifully written social satire that keeps you turning the pages (I couldn't put it down) and...
Published on April 24, 2012 by Kristine Lofgren

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390 of 447 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hope for a table near the door
This is one of those reviews where I am going to receive a lot of unhelpful votes. However, I did not like this book, and feel that as a reviewer, I should be honest and tell you why.

Seating Arrangements takes place during the course of one weekend, and is set on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. It's a special weekend, as Daphne, the eldest...
Published on June 5, 2012 by E. Griffin


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390 of 447 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hope for a table near the door, June 5, 2012
By 
E. Griffin (Wilton, CT, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
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This is one of those reviews where I am going to receive a lot of unhelpful votes. However, I did not like this book, and feel that as a reviewer, I should be honest and tell you why.

Seating Arrangements takes place during the course of one weekend, and is set on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. It's a special weekend, as Daphne, the eldest daughter of the main character Winn Van Meter, is getting married. Families, friends, and neighbors all travel to the island for the wedding and pre-wedding activities. Most of the story is from Winn's perspective, and is a carefully choreographed series of cliches and stereotypes. Winn is a straight-laced, trying too hard WASP, feeling competition from younger men at the bank where he works, worried about the cost of the wedding, consumed with a golf club membership, loves but is bored with his wife, lusts after one of his daughter's friends--the list goes on and on.

All of the characters surrounding Winn are equally shallow stereotypes, making it difficult to engage in the plot. If characters could be said to be indifferent to their own narrative, then that is what we have in Seating Arrangements. Nothing remotely humorous happens in ths book, reading it is like listening to a stilted conversation on a bus for three hours. The plot is dull and unoriginal, the characters are walking cliches, and at times, this is just uncomfortable to read. Don't invest your time.
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145 of 167 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Made me wish for a few of Winn's painkillers..., July 18, 2012
This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
The author must be well-connected with money herself to gain the glowing editorial endorsements of this drivel, masquerading as satire. The "story" (if you can call it that) takes place over a wedding weekend at the VanMeter home.

Winnifred VanMeter is a pretentious, social-climbing jackanape, who occasionally likes to force himself on his wife at the end of a long day. Winn, who is likely scarred by having a girl's name (he might as well have been named "Sue"), is patently unlikeable and lusts over his daughter's whorish friend and bridesmaid, the unfortunately named Agatha. The most outstanding characteristic about Agatha is her dirty feet and scuffed up shoes, discussed in multiple tiresome ways throughout this steaming pile of novel.

Winn and Agatha try to tryst in the laundry room during the first night of the wedding weekend - only for Winn to find out that Agatha and the dryer have something significant in common. That stills his ardor until he walks into his garage a day later with his daughter Livia and finds Agatha and the sociopathic brother of the groom, Sterling (whom Livia had banged the night before in an effort to get over one man by getting under another), in flagrante.

Meanwhile, Winn's daughter, Livia, upset and depressed by her family's unending public discussion about her abortion on top of being dumped by her father's rival's son, is pursued by the equally sociopathic brother of the groom Francis, who reenacts Carrie by soaking her in whale guts and blood. (I'm not going to lie - this was described in such detail it actually turned my stomach. And I'm someone who can eat Taco Bell on a regular basis.)

Other characters pop up here and there - the charmless drunk Celeste, boring Biddy, unattractively anorexic bridesmaid #3 (so meaningless that I can't even recall her name, only that she was so skinny as to be hideous), the groom, his parents (Dicky and Mrs. Dicky - the 12 year old boy in me snickered), the pregnant bride Daphne (who was described as having no interest in others - I can assure you, I returned the favor when it came to her character), and the adventurous Dominique. Dominique - a status-bucking renegade - could have been interesting if we had just learned a bit more about her.

Instead, we waste several chapters flashing back to good ol' Winnie's college years, when he was just as much of an uppity DB as he is currently. The biggest blow for Winn is when (SPOILER ALERT) he learns that his grandfather was the object of affection for a pedophilic older rich man who ultimately became his family's benefactor by bequeathing his mill to his victim. (Well, there's one for victims' rights!) And not only that, Winnifred is named for him! Double blow! AND he was told all of this by his current squeeze's dad, accompanied by a request to please dump his daughter. (And we've got a KO! Couldn't have happened to a more deserving jerk - hell, you're thrilled for poor Ophelia of the "buggy eyes" (as described by Winn) to get away from this guy.)

We also spend an interminable amount of time with Winn complaining about his inability to get into the Pequod Golf Club. News flash dude - if you're on the waiting list for 3 years, you aren't getting in. Winn blames this on the Fenns' (neighbors with a bigger house, better pedigree - the wife is Ophelia (Winn's ex), hubs is a guy Winn blackballed in the supper club at Hahhhvahhhd, and son is father of Livia's aborted fetus) instead of his own craptastic personality. After Winn is mowed over by a Pequod golf cart (I was hoping he'd go into a coma) he tries to leverage this to blackmail the members into letting him in. Mr. Fenn tells Winn that it's impossible for the club to accommodate an ego of his size - there'd be no room for the other members! Kidding...actually Fenn tells him in a polite way that his personality sucks and to move on, no one likes him. And oh yeah, Winn would hate the club anyway. Riiiiight.

The book closes with a completely inappropriate toast given by Winn, while under the influence of massive quantities of wine and painkillers. He then takes off with Agatha (remember her? dirty footed trollop?) and breaks into the Fenns' house where he has a Viagra moment (e.g., he FORGOT his Viagra) and can't close the deal, breaks off their weather vane, and rolls off their roof. Again, by the grace of God, he survives. (WHY can't he DIE??)

Daphne is understandably upset at her idiot father and his speech and won't look at him while he dances with her. Boring Biddy assumes that Winn had an affair with Agatha and is shocked to find out that he's never cheated on her (who knows why this is a surprise given he's an impotent jerk). On the other hand, he's shocked that his two-pump chump act isn't satisfying to her. Livia talks to Teddy and realizes that he's not all he's cracked up to be, pretty much the way most college romances go.

And then finally, FINALLY, this travesty of a book ends. Mother of God, it sucked!
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137 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect, April 24, 2012
This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
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If I never read another chic-lit summer novel again it will be too soon, so I was wary about picking this up, since both the title and the description of the book sounds as though it could lean that way. But have no fear, Seating Arrangements is not chic-lit silliness. It is a beautifully written social satire that keeps you turning the pages (I couldn't put it down) and wanting more.

Seating Arrangements takes place in New England around a summer wedding. Winn Van Meter and his family open their summer home to wedding guests and the chaos they bring. With one daughter, the bride-to-be, pregnant and another recently jilted, plus a house full of bridesmaids, the novel could have easily take a turn toward the type of frivolous hilarity and romance that so many dime a dozen female-audience novels take. Seating Arrangements is instead an exploration of social rules and unfulfilled desires in a witty, pitch-perfect novel, which twists its way through the relationships between father and daughter, lover to lost lover, and youth and experience.

If you pick up a summer read this year, make it this one. The characters are rich and deep, the story is unexpectedly interesting inside a tried-and-true plot and the writing is wonderful. The type of novel that you begin reading and immediately lose yourself in.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Waste of Potential, August 14, 2012
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This book presented characters that I didn't care about doing things that didn't matter. There was very little actual plot and no ending. The book didn't live up to its description. It felt like a waste of time.
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64 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rollicking Social Satire; Best High-Brow Read of the Summer, June 13, 2012
This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
Plenty of excellent plot rehashings by other reviewers, so just two points:

1. Shipstead writes beautifully, cleverly, and brilliantly. I described this book to my publishing friends as Moby-Dick-as-wedding-crasher meets "Rachel Getting Married," the Nantucket version. But that doesn't even begin to do the book justice; Shipstead (who is up for a National Magazine Award in fiction for her short story "La Moretta," which I highly recommend googling and reading in one deep, desperate, devastating breath) works magic here. The characters are delightfully flawed, deliciously inept, morally compromised, but, ultimately, forgivably -even lovably- human. If you are a fan of contemporary American literary fiction in the vein of "A Visit from the Good Squad," "The Marriage Plot," and "Freedom," this should be your next read. I laughed out loud, marveled at exceptionally vivid descriptions (Shipstead sure can turn a phrase), stayed up until the wee hours eager to discover what delights awaited me in the next chapter, and re-read favorite passages aloud to my partner- surely all signs of an excellent book.

2. I imagine some readers picked up "Seating Arrangements" hoping for a breezy feel-good summer beach read with a likable female heroine overcoming personal struggles and ultimately finding love and/or inner peace. Which "Seating Arrangements" most certainly is not, thank god. Shipstead is a literary talent whose dazzling prose and convincing character development belie her youth (wait, you mean a young female writer can have success writing about a middle-aged white guy? Crazy!). To the detractors who find the flittings-about of the down-at-the-heels New England WASP set too 1% for their liking, let us remember this book takes place during the height of the Iraq War, a good year or two before the markets tanked and the recession hit. But no matter; are we to dismiss all great books about the rich when we ourselves are in pecuniary turmoil? Kill off Jay Gatsby in chapter one, leave Newland Archer in Newport, pluck Holden Caulfield from prep school and send the kid to good old public school? I for one am delighted to add Winn van Meter -warts and all- to the pantheon of deep-pocketed, deeply-flawed, and utterly memorable American literary protagonists.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too many unlikeable characters and a gross subplot., November 8, 2013
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J. Witt (Tennessee, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
Really did not enjoy this book. Which age group/gender of readers wants to hear about the father-of-the-bride lusting over one of the bridesmaids for many years and finally getting to grope her and attempt sex on several occasions, as well as extensive fantasizing about it? It's the second largest subplot of the book. Ick. I would bet that most of the readers purchasing a book about a wedding weekend are women. They don't want to read this.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not her fault, January 1, 2013
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This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
Don't blame the author for this boring, overhyped, "steaming pile of novel" as one reviewer aptly called it; she is only a product of her environment--you know, that academic/MFA/Iowa Writers' Workshop clique that writes for each other and the tenure committee instead of for real people. Blame the editors.

The writing is just too dry and uncompelling. Example: "She clamped the bottle between her knees and pulled until it exclaimed over the loss of its cork." Whale pants on a Cape Cod island are mildly humorous, but an exploding whale? Just because something happened in real life doesn't guarantee it will work in fiction, and in this case it definitely doesn't. Also--too many obscure words. Not a page turner!

Richard Russo called this an "assured" debut. While he said Shipstead has talent, notice he didn't call it a "good" or a "must read" novel or anything strongly positive. Could it be a coincidence that both Russo (whose writing I admire) and Shipstead have the same publisher? Could it be he felt too pressured by Knopf to say what he really felt about this book?

Don't waste your time on this one.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good characters, decent story, no glue, July 5, 2012
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I was sorely disappointed in this book, Seating Arrangements. I loved the free sample on my Kindle and bought the book based on that, eagerly looking forward to sinking in to the book while on vacation in Cape Cod.

Well, at first I did enjoy the book, the exposition featuring the main characters was well done (remember, that is what made me want to buy the book in the first place) and oh so promising. But then the story starts to sink under its own weight, and this author does two of my least favorite things.

1. She employs the tired device of stopping a chapter at a suspenseful point and starting the next chapter in a different setting with different characters. That is okay if you are writing such a taut story that the suspense is a feature of the experience. But "Seating Arrangements" is an introspective, thought-y, word-y story that takes place over the course of a mere few hours leading up to a wedding. So the effect of dropping the plot after a chapter and jumping to something else feels choppy and annoying...not suspenseful.

2. She describes too much! Just when the story could be interesting, we have to hear all about how the items looked and felt around the character. Ugh. Towards the end of the book when one character falls off a roof, there is a paragraph that stretches for longer than one page! And it is all description. Double ugh.

Recommendation: No. Sorry for the poor review, but for a relationship-driven story about midlife crises and marriage, I think the author lost the reins of this, and it was an unsatisfying read. Near the end, it became saggy and downright dull, and I skimmed, anxious for it to just be over.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hits a bit too close to home..., June 17, 2012
This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
My own family has a summer house that is shared by several generations and Shipstead's book seemed to most authentically portray what being in a summer house feels like, both the positive, like the continuous connection to your family and the negative like the feelings of privilege that cause you to misread certain situations.
I liked the different voices of the young girls, who are struggling with post college questions of where to go in life, who to be with and ultimately what kind of person to be. I also thought it was interesting that in a different kind of book the bride would have been the main character but here you never hear the story from her point of view only from those around her.
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40 of 52 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Watch out for the exploding whale, May 2, 2012
This review is from: Seating Arrangements (Hardcover)
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"Seating Arrangements" is a 3-day slice of life depicting a particularly joyless New England clan who gather over a weekend to celebrate, in spectacularly lifeless fashion, a family wedding. Not a single one of these characters - all with names like Winn, Biddie and Oatsie - is interesting or likeable as they slug gin, trudge up and down the beach, and contemplate adultery. Even when they finally get down to committing the adultery, no one enjoys it. There is this recurring business with the bloated corpse of a whale which eventually explodes over some of the characters, a metaphor for, I don't know, the agony of being affluent, healthy, white New England professionals in the 21st century. Kind of Updike-lite: of course middle class angst exists. But it's really boring.
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