Neshama's Choices for 4th week in February

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This installment: a mess of an upper class wedding, a miracle baby washes up on shore, and small-town Canadian life is exposed through linked stories.

   Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

At first I resisted this book, but kept reading because I know weddings are glorious petri dishes for revealing folly. The milieu initially put me off: upper middle class WASPs who care deeply about their clubs-- those snooty, hidebound, sophomoric, exclusive bastions of testosterone. Wim belongs to Ophidian but seems to be blocked from Pequod, the New England golf club where he has a summer home on the island. His pregnant daughter Daphne is marrying a perfectly respectable young fellow, Grayson. But oh those brothers of his, oh those bridesmaids, and for that matter, oh those grandmothers, Oatie and Mopsy, who's always complaining about being cold. Then there's Aunt Celeste, much married, much "improved" with plastic surgery, and often pickled. Lust and longing spring forth: Wim for the darkly seductive bridesmaid Agatha, and Livia, Daphne's bitter older sister, for two of Grayson's brothers. A dead whale washes up on the beach. Many farcical, sometimes dangerous misadventures happen but the wedding proceeds. Along the way, scores are laid to rest and some bleak truths are acknowledged. So what I discovered: no matter what the class, the human comedy is endlessly fascinating and entertaining

   The Light Between Oceans: a novel by M. L. Stedman

Tom returns from Gallipoli to Australia. He has psychic scars from being a survivor when many of his mates were killed in battle and earlier from a mother who ran off when he was young. He and spirited Isobel take up, mostly through her urging, and start their life together on Jones Island where he's the  lighthouse keeper. Izzy has miscarriages but then a miracle: a baby washes up in a dingy, alive, though the man with her is dead. They know it's not right but Izzy's so rapturous, the baby's so needy, and Tom loves his wife so much that they don't report the event and bring up the little girl as their own with great joy. The reckoning comes 4 years later, with incredible moral tangles and grave consequences. Utterly intense, thoughtful storytelling.

   Juliet in August by Diane Warren

A mythical small town in rural Saskatchewan on the edge of sand dunes. We get to know many of the citizens in the course of one day in these linked stories. A farmer, Blaine, on the edge of bankruptcy; a banker, Norval, haunted by all those going under financially; a young man, Lee, who finds an Arabian horse on the loose and ends up replicating the 100 mile ride two cowboys undertook as a contest years ago. Blaine's wife, Vickie, 5 children in tow, gets into misadventures galore. Norval's wife, Lily, wants the perfect wedding for her knocked up daughter, Rochelle. Willard runs the town’s drive in and shares a house with his widowed sister-in-law, Marian, clueless that she loves him. I enjoyed dropping into this small world and watching the dramas, large and small, play out. Warren treats her characters with great affection and they exhibit a combination of dignity and absurdity in varying proportions.

Back next Monday.

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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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