Well, I did not love this debut book by Maggie Shipstead, although I had been hearing great things for quite some time about this book. I had checked it out from the library once before, then did not read it at the time. What tipped me over the edge this time, was the fact that it was mentioned in one of the earliest Book Riot podcasts (it might have been the very first one, as a matter of fact). By the way, if you are a book lover and do not follow Book Riot on Facebook, Twitter, or receive their weekly emails, take a break from reading this, and head over here: http://www.bookriot.com. It’s smart, it’s fun, and it’s all about books! What more could you want?? Okay, back to our regularly scheduled book review.
Seating Arrangements is about the Van Meter family, of which Winn is the patriarch. Winn’s oldest daughter, Daphne, is seven months pregnant and about to get married. The wedding is going to take place on their weekend island of Waseke, and Winn’s sanctuary has been overrun by females: his wife, Biddy; the aforementioned, Daphne; her sister (and only sibling), Livia; Biddy’s sister, Celeste; Daphne’s bridesmaids: Agatha, Dominique, and Piper. Winn is a very reserved New England patriarch, who does not quite understand the fuss being made over the wedding. He is happy however, that Agatha is in residence, as he has secretly lusted after her for years. Apparently, the feeling is mutual.
Livia is withdrawn, pale, and underweight, as she had a breakup with Teddy, son of one of Winn’s rivals. Teddy’s parents, the Fenns, hold the key to Winn’s admission into the exclusive island club, the Pequod. He has been on the waiting list for three years, and is positive it is the Fenns that are keeping him out. There is a history between Winn and both adult Fenns anyway, but he blames Livia and Teddy’s breakup.
The Duff family is the one Daphne is marrying into, and they are a comical family. They are everything you picture when you think of wealthy New England families (or at least what I picture): eccentric, noncommittal, indulgent, and the owners of a small island off the coast of Maine. They have four sons, Greyson, Daphne’s groom; Sterling; Dicky, Jr.; and Francis. (I did not necessarily list them in the proper birth order, but Dicky, Jr. is the second son).
The book tells the story of the weekend on the island, but also reveals Winn’s life growing up in a new-monied family. Winn is quite literally, a pompous ass. Biddy is his silent suffering wife, who has resigned herself to whatever her fate may be, although she truly does love Winn. Daphne is just simpering – but she’s a pregnant bride, so that’s probably to be expected. Livia is a young, tempestuous college student, who is hell bent on getting over her breakup with Teddy. The family relationship is quite strained.
The book is not one I would ordinarily have picked up. It is fairly vapid and it is definitely a summer beach read. I would have read it in a few hours had I read it on a day off and not during a work week, where I could only read it for a few minutes at a time. The characters are not likable, there are few redeeming qualities amongst them – Biddy is about the only one you can feel any sympathy for, and even though it is Daphne’s wedding, she is the one character you know next to nothing about (I realize the book is not about her, per se, but still). But again, it would be a great book to read while sitting on the beach or by the pool, very little thought process involved, it does have some funny scenes, but nothing I truly laughed over. Good debut, but not a GREAT book.