‘A Wedding in December’ by Anita Shreve

Wedding

Fiction – paperback; Abacus; 336 pages; 2006.

A group of college friends, many of whom have not seen each other for 27 years, gather for a wedding at an inn in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

This once tight circle of friends — Rob, an out-of-the-closet pianist; Harrison, a book publisher; Jerry, a burly businessman with a stuck-up wife; Agnes, an unmarried history teacher tormented by a long-running love affair and writing a novel; Nora, the widowed owner of the inn; and the wedding couple, Bill and Bridget, who dated at school but then went on to marry other people — spend three days at the inn.

The ceremony, restricted to just this group of seven friends and one or two others, takes on a special significance because Bridget, the mother of a 15-year-old son, has breast cancer and isn’t expected to live much beyond two years.

And if this doesn’t sound melancholy enough there are other shadows hovering over this group of friends, including the death of Steven, a charismatic classmate, at a drunken high school party all those years ago, and the tragic events of 9/11 just three months earlier.

Amid this somewhat downbeat atmosphere the party gets snowed in and, fuelled by the ensuing claustrophobia, tension and too much alcohol, comes the spilling of sordid secrets from the past…

I had really wanted to love this book, having waited so long for its paperback release, but I have to say I found A Wedding in December disappointing. It felt too contrived, too stilted and too meandering. I am surprised I actually got beyond the first chapter it was so plodding and pedestrian.

I particularly disliked the way in which a dual story — about the Halifax explosion of 1917 in which more than 2,000 people died – was interspersed throughout the main narrative. Anita Shreve is usually a dab hand at dual narratives, but this one felt clunky and overworked. While I understand that it was supposed to mirror the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre I’m sure the profound nature of those events could have been handled differently — for instance, as dinner table discussion between the friends.

That said, the book isn’t entirely terrible.

The characters are well drawn and you get a real sense of what they were like at school and what they are like now, 27 years later, having experienced the ups and downs and twists and turns of their own lives.

Shreve also knows how to handle human emotions and is very good at exploring the ebbs and flows of people’s lives. If nothing else, A Wedding in December is an interesting look at how our actions and our decisions can have far-reaching repercussions and that it is never too late to seek redemption or find happiness.

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10 thoughts on “‘A Wedding in December’ by Anita Shreve

  1. I agree, I found this one not up to her usual standard, though I liked the narrator character and the back story of their college days.
    I agree that the Halifax ship story did not work so well.
    I also found the sections about Bridget’s wig buying, etc, did not ring true at all.
    But having said all that, I enjoyed the book.
    Great review, you have it on the nail I think.

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  2. Maxine, I think that the Halifax story would have worked on its own as a separate novel rather than being interspersed in dribs and drabs throughout this book.

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  3. LitLove, definitely not this one! Personally, I very much liked Strange Fits of Passion. But Sea Glass and the Weight of Water are very good too.

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  4. I haven’t read this particular book of Shreve’s but if you’re looking for a good novel centering on the Halifax Explosion, check out Robert MacNeil’s ‘Burden of Desire’ (Americans may recognize the author, a native Haligonian, from the PBS show The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour).

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  5. I just finished reading Wedding in December. In general, I felt it was one of Anita Shreve’s best. However,it was not flawless.
    Why would people who hadn’t seen each other in 27 years suddenly reunite for a wedding? On the other hand, the characterization,particularly Harrison and Agnes, was very good. Basically, I found it stirring,moving,and thoroughly readable.

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  6. Judy, thanks for your comment. I must say I also wondered why people who had not seen each other for 27 years would want to get together. Glad you liked the book. For some reason, it just did not do it for me, although I am a big Anita Shreve fan. Be interesting to see what she comes up with next…

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  7. Wedding in December: sub-story about Halifax explosion was too long and disruptive and left characters under-developed. As someone who experienced World War II bombing and other immediate horrors 9/11 did not have equal effect viewed from UK.

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