A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve

September 21, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): This book centers on a small group of former high school classmates who gather together after 27 years to celebrate the wedding of two of them, Bill and Bridget. Bill and Bridget had been sweethearts back at Kidd Academy, and everyone thought they would stay together forever. But Bill ended up meeting someone else in college. He dumped Bridget and married Jill instead. But he and Bridget reconnected at their Kidd 25-year reunion, and decided they really were meant to be together. So both divorced their spouses and quickly planned the wedding. “Quickly” because Bridget is dying from terminal cancer.

Also at the reunion are Nora, the widowed B&B owner whose inn they are using for the wedding; Harrison, a Toronto book publisher who is currently married with two children — but still has a thing for Nora; Jerry, a brash, overbearing NYC millionaire, and his wife Julie (not a Kidd grad); Rob, a concert pianist who shows up with his lover Josh; and Agnes, a “spinster” who went back to teach at Kidd and has — unbeknownst to the rest of the group — been carrying on an affair with their former English teacher Jim Mitchell.

Most of the classmates haven’t seen each other since their Kidd graduation, so they first spend some time feeling each other out, noticing which ones have gained weight, lost hair, or need wrinkle cream. Then as the wine flows, so do the memories — including one about how their fellow friend Stephen Otis was killed one night after venturing into the ocean following a drunken binge.

As is to be expected, there are various other confessions, arguments, and hookups as everyone works through 27 years of buried angst before going their separate ways again after the weekend is over.

Liked:

  • I really liked the setup of this novel. I’m facing the question of whether or not I should attend my 20-year reunion, so many of the themes Shreve brought up were relevant to my situation.
  • A couple of the characters were interesting. I wish there had been more of a focus on Harrison and Nora. I know they were featured quite a bit as it was, but it still didn’t feel like enough. Out of everyone, I was most anxious about what their future held.

Disliked:

  • The novel-within-a-novel completely bugged me. I didn’t care at all about Agnes’ attempts to write something about the Halifax explosion, and couldn’t believe Shreve put so much of Anges’ story into the reunion story. Sure, I get that she was trying to draw parallels between that disaster and 9/11 (which had recently occurred in book-time), but still… the Halifax story just completely took me out of the main story and horribly disrupted the flow of the novel.
  • Agnes was kind of an annoying character all around. Why would she have to break off her affair with Jim Mitchell just because she told her friends about it? It didn’t make sense, especially if she truly loved him as much as she said she did. She tried to rationalize it by saying she didn’t keep her promise of secrecy to Jim and therefore didn’t deserve to be with him anymore, but whatever. That was pretty stupid.
  • The whole Stephen storyline was a letdown. This was the big skeleton in everyone’s closet? That they didn’t get Stephen any help when they knew he was an alcoholic? Ho hum. And what was up with Harrison? He felt guilty all those years because he didn’t give Stephen his own pair of pants after Stephen had crapped his from being so drunk? Huh?? In what universe would Stephen’s death ever be attributed to Harrison?
  • Oh, geez… a token gay guy. Of course. And he was the nicest one of the bunch. Of course. Why isn’t the gay guy ever the asshole? Stereotype much? Note: This is not a commentary against gay characters… It really seemed that Shreve made Rob gay for no other reason than to have the inevitable whispers of, “Did you know he was gay???” So tiresome.
  • Bridget and Bill weren’t a very compelling couple. Since it was their wedding being featured, I thought their love story should have had a bit more vivacity to it.

Rating:

Overall, I was quite disappointed in A Wedding in December. Shreve was clearly trying to illustrate lost opportunities, regret, making up for lost time, and all the other themes that would naturally surface at a reunion, but the effect wasn’t as profound or emotional or satisfying as it should have been. The novel was boring in many places and I had to basically force myself to read to the end to see if anything good happened. Nothing did. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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