Title: Seating Arrangements
Author: Maggie Shipstead
Publication: Blue Door (24 May 2012)
Summary: The Van Meters have gathered at their family retreat on the New England island of Waskeke to celebrate the marriage of daughter Daphne to an impeccably appropriate young man. The weekend is full of lobster and champagne, salt air and practiced bonhomie, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust seep through the cracks in the revelry.
Winn Van Meter, father-of-the-bride, has spent his life following the rules of the east coast upper crust, but now, just shy of his sixtieth birthday, he must finally confront his failings, his desires, and his own humanity.
What I Think
Maggie Shipstead's Seating Arrangements takes place over three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, in the lead-up to and the day of Daphne and Greyson's wedding. Despite Winn, Daphne's father, being the main character, the story is told from multiple points of view. This gives the reader an insight into how everyone - not just the main character - feels and interprets the various events which happen over these three days.
Shipstead's writing and imagery is beautiful. "The farm might have been the end of the earth. A thin seam of ocean sealed its fields to the sky, all of it coppered by the sun." And not only is she able to capture these scenes perfectly, but she interjects these long, languid sentences with short snappy dialogue which makes for varied and interesting reading.
Various characters offer us an insight into relationships, both romantic and otherwise. "Female friendship was one-tenth prevention and nine-tenths cleanup." "Because it turns out to be a choice, commitment - not some done deal."
Overall this is not a fast-paced thrill of a book, but it's not supposed to be. It's a gentle unraveling of a family, their friends and (soon to be) in-laws and the secrets that they all hold. I really enjoyed it.
About the Author
Maggie Shipstead is the author of two novels: Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements, which won the Dylan Thomas Prize and the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She is a graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Her writing has appeared in many publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New Republic, Tin House, and The Best American Short Stories. “La Moretta,” a story published in VQR, was a National Magazine Award finalist. She lives in Los Angeles.