by Meredith Goldstein
Mainstream Women's Fiction
Premise: A wedding causes five single invitees to evaluate their lives.
Cover: Title - Simple, direct, effective. Art - Very pretty and reflective of content, with the gold metallic lettering cleverly calling to mind the rings (i.e., life partners) that the novel protagonists don't have. The theme of social pressure for people to couple up literally forms the centre of attention.
Overall, well done and attractive.
First Sentence Test: "Twenty-nine-year-old bride-to-be Beth Eleanor Evans, a slender, freckled, strawberry blonde whom people called Bee because of her initials, stood in front of the whiteboard she'd purchased that day at the Target off Route 103."
Did this make AW want to read on? No
What Works: Weddings seem like a hot topic right now, fascinating to far more people than just those intending to tie the knot in the near future if the multitude of wedding reality shows and are any indication. This novel, and the earlier "Girls in White Dresses", seems to ride the wave.
Why? Why are weddings intriguing for people not directly participating? As a person who was, yes, sucked into regular viewing of one or two of those shows, please allow Apprentice Writer to voice her theory: it's the expanding effect weddings have on the psychology of onlookers. No one (at least, not in this novel) remains within their regular emotional parameters prior and during the wedding. Their highs get higher and their lows lower, and it can be tremendously addictive entertainment to have a window on what happens under those circumstances. As such, AW was sold on the premise of this book.
She enjoyed the ensemble approach, with events looked at through the eyes of multiple characters rather than just one point of view. AW also liked how each POV character had clear strengths and weaknesses; there were none who skewed heavily to the "good" or "evil" side. AW would like to think that this realistic and balanced approach has something to do with the author's background as a newspaper etiquette and advice giver, a perspective that would tend to encourage the view that a) we all have our personal issues to work through, and b) one need not ever given up on anyone completely. This is how the characters come across, and AW appreciated it.
What Doesn't: AW received an Advance Readers Copy, and therefore has no way of knowing how much of the manuscript that finally went to print may have changed and improved. That being said, the authorial style and voice didn't always entirely flow for her. Run-on sentences (as from first page, above) were not uncommon, as was a tendency to repetition: "She was blinded just a few seconds later by a vicious, almost blinding fluorescent light."
AW disliked the biological reality descriptions included in some scenes for two reasons; it seemed to her that the point could have been gotten across without going into as much detail, and also, it seemed to underline how the choices of some characters kept them at what seemed like a high school/college level rather than people moving on and establishing themselves in their professional lives. It is true that often, individuals may be moving forward in some parts of their lives while feeling as though they are stuck in others. This is a common and relatable phenomenon for many if not most readers. But characters such as the woman who accepts and swallows an unknown pill from a near stranger and then (against advice) drinks steadily without eating gets no sympathy when things start going wrong.
Overall: A slice-of-life novel about people trying to find their post-college groove and figure out the age old question of how or even whether to find a partner that manages to make the reader, whether single or partnered, feel their status is valid.