It’s June, that time when those of you with actual friends have weddings to attend every weekend. (Eric and I have only been to 2 weddings. What does that say about our social life?) If your friends are all hitched or all single or if you’re just mostly friendless like me, you can live vicariously through books.
Today I’m highlighting two books that go very well together, similar stories and settings, and yet they are quite different and fun in their own way. Our theme is Weddings on the Cape.
Before I moved to Massachusetts I didn’t really know what “the Cape” was and vaguely understood that it was part of the same group as “the Hamptons.” It is a place where fancy city people escape for the summer. Now that I’m here and have been to the Cape (I’ve even been to a wedding on the Cape!) I have a little more insight. But even if you’ve never been, you can still enjoy these lovely books.
First is the new release Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead, a debut author. I hesitate to start my review by telling you that the book follows Winn van Meter, a successful banker who lives in Connecticut, has a wife and 2 daughters and a house on the Cape. His daughter is getting married and he joins the family in the Cape house for the festivities. Melancholy antics ensue.
I hesitate to tell you that because I know that the minute I hear that a novel is about a well-off middle-aged man who will inevitably encounter some kind of midlife crisis I want to roll my eyes and fake-puke.
BUT I loved this book. Yes, it involves preppies with names like Winn and Biddy. And there are mid-life crises. And there is a sizable subplot involving country club membership.
I think the reason I loved it is because Shipstead taps into the messiness under the flipped collars and khakis. Like, did I mention that Winn’s engaged daughter is pregnant? Not just a little pregnant, but massively so? As much as you want to be annoyed by Winn, following him around through his present and his past, you find yourself kind of loving him.
Shipstead’s writing is just so… good. And not good in the annoying way where you just want to throw the book across the room. The book is fun and thoughtful and sad and joyous. A thinking person’s beach read.
It’s a compliment to Shipstead that I immediately thought of today’s other book, That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo. This was a 2009 release by my favorite New England author, who I love even more now that I’m a transplanted New Englander myself.
Russo’s books are usually dramas of small town life. Books like Empire Falls and Nobody’s Fool, books about sadsacks and ex-lovers and lost youth. They are always a joy to read because Russo is just that good. He finds humor everywhere. That Old Cape Magic qualifies as a comedy, though, and is more in line with his brilliant comedy Straight Man. These books may also focus on aging and melancholy, but they are so consistently funny that you can’t stop laughing.
Jack and Joy have been married for 34 years. Jack has achieved nearly everything he’s planned to. And yet…
Two Cape weddings take place here, as well as decades of memories from Jack’s time spending summers on the Cape with his parents. As I read it I kept thinking what a good movie it would make. There are pratfalls and punches along with the kind of introspection one expects from the inimitable Mr. Russo.
I have Russo on the brain right now, as his upcoming memoir is sitting in my kindle waiting to be read. If you haven’t read any Richard Russo before, That Old Cape Magic is a great place to start. Many of his usual themes, but it isn’t so long that you’ll be intimidated or so bleak that you’ll be brought down. Once he’s reeled you in, I can bet you’ll be wanting to read more.