Summer is over, and you know what that means: reading time has significantly decreased! These are the busiest weeks of the year for my office, which means we run all day and by the time I get home all I want to do is eat and sleep! Consequently, getting through a novel takes more than just a day or two, and it means that when I get a dud, it's even more painful to fight my way to the end. Thankfully, that wasn't the case here.
I found Seating Arrangements on a list of "best summer books" somewhere--I don't actually remember where now. But it was settled in among titles like Jaws, and it was available from the university library, so I requested it and off I went. It's definitely a character-driven novel, with a large ensemble cast of two families and some various other friends/acquaintances who are gathered on a New England island preparing for a wedding. Now, let me get this off my chest: I hate weddings. They bring out the absolute worst in everyone, and I think Shipstead really captured that in Seating Arrangements. There's petty fighting and sleeping around and just general drama, which sounds tedious but really isn't because it captures the real situation of wedding preparations so well. Oh, and there's an exploding whale!
So there are really two main characters, with the others all factoring in to lesser degrees. Mainly, Livia (sister of the bride) got out of a serious relationship and had an abortion and is still trying to get over it, preferably with a rebound guy, and Livia's father, Winn, both wants to sleep with one of the bridesmaids and is also obsessed with getting into the Pequod, a club on the island. Winn being one of the main characters seems to be one of the main reasons people dislike this book. (Guess what? I'm counting this for my Popsugar Challenge for "A book with bad reviews," because scrolling through the first page of reviews on Goodreads reveals a steady string of one- and two-star reviews.) I can understand that. He's a jerk. He's a horrible person, who thinks that having an affair is both somehow respectable and will make his marriage better. What? That doesn't make sense. Another reviewer used the word "misogynistic" to describe Winn, and I think I can agree with that. He has absolutely no regard for the women in his life, whether they be his wife or his daughters, and is absolutely obsessed with archaic clubs. To him, the world revolves around clubs. Clearly the world does not actually revolve around clubs. He's also caught up in some ridiculous decades-old rivalry that no one else cares about anymore. All of these factors together make him a terrifically unlikable character, and with so much of the book focused on him, I can see why many people were turned off.
But not me. Oh, no, I love a good drama, and this had drama aplenty. Between Livia and Agatha and dying lobsters and exploding whales, I was mostly able to push Winn off to the side of my mind and focus on other things which means, for the most part, I enjoyed this. I liked Livia a lot more than Winn. I think she's a very identifiable young woman, going through her first real heartbreak and realizing that things aren't exactly the way she thought they were or should be, while still trying to maintain a bit of dignity--with mixed results. And she breaks someone's finger, which is kind of bad-ass. Just enough to make me cheer for her a little more. I thought Shipstead did a good job of capturing the "wedding on an island" atmosphere without really getting to the wedding; she does get to it, but it's literally two pages long and not important other than that Winn gets some of what's coming to him. So yeah, I liked this. I didn't love it. I might read it again. Maybe. It was a light drama with an island setting, a good read for summer--just like it was recommended to me as, so really, I can't complain.
3 stars out of 5.