Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Seating Arrangements
Author: Maggie Shipstead
Published: June 12, 2012
Genre: contemporary fiction
Hardcover: 302 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

My Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): Winn Van Meter is heading for his family’s retreat on the pristine New England island of Waskeke. Normally a haven of calm, for the next three days this sanctuary will be overrun by tipsy revelers as Winn prepares for the marriage of his daughter Daphne to the affable young scion Greyson Duff.  Winn’s wife, Biddy, has planned the wedding with military precision, but arrangements are sideswept by a storm of salacious misbehavior and intractable lust: Daphne’s sister, Livia, who has recently had her heart broken by Teddy Fenn, the son of her father’s oldest rival, is an eager target for the seductive wiles of Greyson’s best man; Winn, instead of reveling in his patriarchal duties, is tormented by his long-standing crush on Daphne’s beguiling bridesmaid Agatha; and the bride and groom find themselves presiding over a spectacle of misplaced desire, marital infidelity, and monumental loss of faith in the rituals of American life. 

Hilarious, keenly intelligent, and commandingly well written, Shipstead’s deceptively frothy first novel is a piercing rumination on desire, on love and its obligations, and on the dangers of leading an inauthentic life, heralding the debut of an exciting new literary voice. 

My Thoughts: This is Maggie Shipstead's first novel, and what a story she manages to tell. Focusing on the Van Meter family during the days leading up to the oldest daughter's wedding, Shipstead tells a tale of social classes, birthrights, relationships, family, and the expectations that we place on the people and things in our lives. Each character is grappling with their own issues, trying to come to grips with their lives while on an island off the New England coast. The patriarch of the family, Winn, is stuggling to comprehend why he hasn't been invited into the prestigious golf club on the island. All his life, where ever he travles, Winn joins clubs. He loves the sense of belonging that they provide and how they clearly state where you are in society. His oldest daughter is getting married while being seven months pregnant. His youngest, Livia, is distraught after her first real relationship ended and she had an abortion. For me, Livia and Winn are the most interesting people in this book.

Winn is just such a stereotypical New England prep-school man. He loves how belonging to different clubs provides not only a physical shelter from the world, where he can go in and drink and read newspapers. He also loves the emotional shelter of it, the identity that one has when they belong to such a place. He doesn't realize this, but it becomes clear as you read the novel that this is a man who needs these exclusive clubs to define who he is and provide him with an identity. Then there is Livia, trying to cope with an abortion and her first relationship ending. She has so many needs, but her need to understand why she is no longer with Teddy (her ex) consumes her. It's a weight bearing down on her, and for someone who has always gotten what they want in life, she feels as if she will also get Teddy back, if for no other reason than just because that's how she wants it to be. 

I could continually sit here and gush about this book (I've already told so many people about it that I'm hoping one of them will read it so we can discuss it!), but I will just implore you to read it. This is not a book to breeze through, not a romantic tale about a New England wedding. If that's what you are expecting, then you will be very disappointed. If you are looking for a great piece of literature, then you need to read this book. Maggie Shipstead may only have one book to her name, but it's an amazing book and one that will leave you thinking for many days after you finish reading it.


  1. I might have to give this one another try. I picked it up quite a while ago and couldn't get into it, but I do keep hearing great things about it.

  2. Very thorough and helpful review. For some reason I was expecting a chick-lit read or romance so I'm happy that you gave me a better idea of what to expect. I'm adding this to my list straight away and I'll let you know what I think when I get to it.

  3. I read this over the summer and thought it was great - I agree that its not a light wedding tale but a piece of literature. It is hard to write reviews of books you really like - you did a great job!