Often I grab a novel from the New Fiction bookcase at our neighborhood library; I found my 2012 favorite, Arcadia, that way, an unexpected pleasure. Granted, I tend to take books that sound a note of recognition, which would linger in my mind from a Sunday Times Book Review, NPR, or my guilty pleasure, Entertainment Weekly. I'm trying to take advantage of my Goodreads membership, too, and find friends' recommendations there. Despite having an older Kindle, I still like the heft of hardback.
Two weeks ago I checked out Maggie Shipstead's Seating Arrangements (Knopf, 2012), because I remembered some positive press. New England WASPs getting married on tiny islands are not generally my thing, what with being a single Southerner, but the writing on the first page engaged me, and darned if that book didn't suck me in and keep me reading until I finished it back there at the West End branch this morning. Her prose is beautiful, and Shipstead does a masterful job of managing multiple points of view, moving between them to offer a family portrait that is unique yet universal. Protagonist Winn Van Meter, patriarch and father of the bride, went from someone I couldn't imagine understanding to a character I was rooting for as he literally and figuratively swayed in the wind. Both he and second daughter Livia, 40 years his junior, grow up over the course of the weekend the novel narrates. From whale-covered trousers to whale-blubbered beach, the details, decades and desires woven into the tale left me laughing, but with moist eyes, as I handed the volume to the librarian.
Superlatives: Character I'd most like to hang with: Dominique. Character I'd most like to hear more from: Biddy. Most honest character: Sterling. Most caricatured character: Celeste. Most throwaway character: Poppy (was that even her name?).
From the publisher's page:
Winn Van Meter is heading for his family’s retreat on the pristine New England island of Waskeke. Normally a haven of calm, for the next three days this sanctuary will be overrun by tipsy revelers as Winn prepares for the marriage of his daughter Daphne to the affable young scion Greyson Duff. Winn’s wife, Biddy, has planned the wedding with military precision, but arrangements are sideswept by a storm of salacious misbehavior and intractable lust: Daphne’s sister, Livia, who has recently had her heart broken by Teddy Fenn, the son of her father’s oldest rival, is an eager target for the seductive wiles of Greyson’s best man; Winn, instead of reveling in his patriarchal duties, is tormented by his long-standing crush on Daphne’s beguiling bridesmaid Agatha; and the bride and groom find themselves presiding over a spectacle of misplaced desire, marital infidelity, and monumental loss of faith in the rituals of American life.