Friday, April 27, 2018
Books

Review: Father of bride stumbles through prewedding march in 'Seating Arrangements' by Maggie Shipstead

When I was an English teacher, we always ended the school year with a ritual argument about summer reading. My erudite opponents claimed students should gird their loins and trudge through George Eliot's Middlemarch or some other Improving Literature. My free-spirited comrades and I countered that students should wander barefoot through the stacks, picking at whim whatever titles they might enjoy.

Many of us are still silently carrying out that argument when we pack our suitcases. For a sophisticated summer romp, I recommend Seating Arrangements, the first novel from Maggie Shipstead. Set over three warm days on a WASP-y island off the coast of New England, it's impeccably well-bred for vacation reading. The author is a graduate of Harvard and a dedicated student of the Darien club set, and once she grabs these characters by their pearl chokers and duck belts, she never lets go.

Like any classic romantic comedy, Seating Arrangements culminates in a wedding, but getting down the aisle almost kills the father of the bride. Winn Van Meter has spent his buttoned-down life on a rickety perch of the upper class, a persnickety, joyless man easily annoyed by others' misbehavior. His pregnant daughter's wedding is just the sort of awkward extravagance that tweaks his bow tie — "a family reunion and missile launch and state dinner all rolled into one."

Among the guests is a gorgeous young bridesmaid unburdened by qualms about hooking up with a married man like Winn. Before rice flies, there will be broken hearts and broken bones, falling bodies and exploding whales, consummations devoutly to be wished and interrupted.

Shipstead captures the bride's forlorn sister in all her wounded disappointments, and she's particularly astute in her portrayal of a young Egyptian bridesmaid who regards the troubles of the 1 percent with muted exasperation. What's more surprising is Shipstead's unnerving insight into the comic-tragedy of middle-aged men, that mixture of smothered envy, aspiration and lust that mutates into irritated superiority. (So I've heard.)

The sea breeze blowing through Seating Arrangements is Shipstead's affection for these spoiled people, her tender handling of their sorrows and longings, which you'll respond to even if you don't summer on Nantucket.

Comments
Review: Bill DeYoung’s ‘Phil Gernhard, Record Man’ recounts the life of a Florida music powerhouse

Review: Bill DeYoung’s ‘Phil Gernhard, Record Man’ recounts the life of a Florida music powerhouse

Phil Gernhard might be the biggest musical force from Florida you never heard of.Gernhard died in 2008 at age 67, so estranged from family and friends that he willed his considerable estate to a long-lost high school girlfriend. But before that sad e...
Published: 04/26/18
Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

NightstandLee GoldbergGoldberg, the author of 30 books, has also been a writer and producer for several TV shows, including Monk and Diagnosis Murder. His new novel is True Fiction, an Ian Ludlow mystery. When we caught up with him by phone recently ...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Events: SunLit Festival concludes with Jack Kerouac event, Antiquarian Book Fair and more

Events: SunLit Festival concludes with Jack Kerouac event, Antiquarian Book Fair and more

Book Talk The fourth annual SunLit Festival concludes today with these events. For information, go to facebook.com/sunlitfestival or keepstpetelit.org/sunlit-festival. All events are in St. Petersburg. • 37th annual Florida Antiquarian Book F...
Published: 04/20/18
Review: Gilbert King’s ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ a compelling, horrifying look at Florida’s racist history

Review: Gilbert King’s ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ a compelling, horrifying look at Florida’s racist history

If Willis McCall were a fictional character, he’d be too far over the top to be believable. Readers (and editors) would scoff that no one could be such a monster of violent, unabashed racism — and get away with it for so long. But McCall...
Published: 04/20/18
Notable: Advice-givers write about their own life choices

Notable: Advice-givers write about their own life choices

NotableSince you askedThree women whose jobs involve giving advice write about navigating their own life choices.Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions From a Modern Advice Columnist (Grand Central) by Meredith Goldstein, the Love Letters columnist...
Published: 04/20/18
Book review: James Comey wants to explain himself

Book review: James Comey wants to explain himself

In 2016, as the director of the FBI, James Comey publicly dissected Hillary Clinton’s email server controversy. Later, we learned that Comey was keeping to himself the beginnings of an investigation into Russia’s active interference in the U.S. elect...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Henry David Thoreau once heaved a big stone against the trunk of a chestnut tree to bring down a shower of nuts. He loved their sweet meat, but the meal filled him with guilt. "It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injur...
Published: 04/18/18
Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida got a shoutout from the Pulitzer Prizes on Monday: The 2018 literary prize for history was awarded to University of Florida professor Jack E. Davis for his book The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.Davis, who grew up in Pinellas County and...
Published: 04/16/18
Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

NotableLegends 2.0Three new books offer striking reimaginings of the tales and legends of different cultures. Children of Blood and Bone (Henry Holt and Co.) by Tomi Adeyemi is a debut YA novel of epic magical adventure with characters based on the O...
Updated one month ago
Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Lots of things to do for literary-minded folks in Tampa Bay, and most of them are free.
Published: 04/12/18