Read Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead Online


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 arrangWinn 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....

Title : Seating Arrangements
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780307599469
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 302 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Seating Arrangements Reviews

  • Melissa
    2019-01-10 13:18

    When, WHEN will I learn to avoid these insufferable Iowa Writers' Workshop books, all of which blend together in a sea (ocean analogy intentional) of WASP despair? I worry they must be arming these Iowa students with copies of "Catcher in the Rye", "The Great Gatsby", and enough existential, end-of-empire ennui to fell a country club (or this weary reader, at least)."Seating Arrangements" is the story of the Van Meter family, who is preparing for the eldest daughter's marriage at the family compound on a Nantucket-style island. More specifically, it's a psychological portrait of the family patriarch, Winn, a grasping, thoroughly unlikeable protagonist who has all of the aforementioned Gatsby ambition with none of the relatability. The plot moves along well enough, but it's cluttered with the usual distress signals - gin, Harvard, boat shoes, and overwrought ocean analogies. True to cliched form, everyone frets over imagined problems as they sense the world of privilege receding from the shoreline (there I go again with the seafaring analogies - thanks a bunch, Iowa).My bitterness aside, Shipstead isn't without talent - certain lines were laugh-out-loud clever, and the story is engaging despite the alternately unlikeable or bland (there's no middle ground in WASP-dom, apparently) cast of characters. That being said, I struggled to keep the supporting characters clear, though that may have been an intentional move by the author to suggest WASPs are all interchangeably boring or bland; either way, it made for difficult reading at times.Skip this and read the far superior "Prep" if you're in the market for depressive preppy reads hailing from the vaunted (why?) Iowa Writers' Workshop.

  • Elizabeth
    2018-12-29 14:19

    Well, turns out I just do not give a shit. DONE.

  • Bailey
    2019-01-04 19:20

    I should know by now that choosing a book because its cover is cute and pastel and featuring two lobsters in love is not reason enough. And yet, those were my main motivations in reading Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. Halfway through reading this book I stopped and asked myself if I was failing as a reader—perhaps it was a satire and not meant to be read with an earnest eye. It wasn’t until the last sentence that I felt safe in saying that there was definitely some attempted criticism of the East Coast WASP contingent, but it needed to more firmly pick a lane. The book spent far too little time on the interesting and sympathetic characters—Daphne, Dominique, Biddy—and instead focused on Winn, the stale patriarch of the family, with short interspersed passages from the point of view of other self-absorbed and detestable characters. I also could not get past the character names. I know it is a running joke that waspy types go by odd nicknames but in a group of twenty people how probable is it to find a Biddy, Fee, Dicky Jr., Fenn, Winn, Teddy, Tipton, Greyson, Sterling, Oatsie, and Mopsy?I’d recommend passing on this one and instead picking up Gone Girl, Prep, or The Paris Wife if you need a light but still substantive read.

  • jenn
    2019-01-23 14:11

    A review of Seating Arrangements, aka, The Whitest Book I've Read All Year. And I read The Marriage Plot.A few nights ago, as I was preparing to check this book out of a venerable New England institution that shall remain nameless, I felt the hand of a man I knew to be very elderly graze the entirety of my ass, from left to right. As if to explain the action, the owner of the hand leaned in to whisper the title of this book into my ear. Wine and cheese were had by all.I recount this story because the experience of it was a lot like the experience of reading this book - audacious and inappropriate, but not without a weird sort of charm. If you like your protagonists to be, well, likable, don't bother, because the world doesn't need another reviewer judging an author for not writing characters of sterling character. Maggie Shipstead has written a story in which those dudes you see in whale-embroidered pants turn out to be exactly what one would expect from those dudes you see in whale-embroidered pants.The bad news is that the main character reminded me of Mitt Romney, and there are sex scenes.

  • Elyse
    2019-01-18 20:02

    UPDATE: $1.99 special today! This book is GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I should have given it a solid 5 stars when I read I STILL remember it!!!! The characters will make you cringe ---(none of them are likable) ---but you'll have soooooooo much fun with this story). A wedding from hell........ lolMaggie is a wonderful writer!!! I can't wait for a 'new release' from her! This book 'is' worth jumping at for $1.994.7 stars*Maggie Shipstead's* writing is explosive and exciting!!!!!!Seating Arrangements felt like a warm summer tropical storm - with outburst of nature's "groans of roaring wind and rain". Yet....its the 'people' --(less anything to do with the weather) --that I'm referring to. Its not often I read a book THIS GOOD in where 'every' character is annoying --(not easy to love), yet I can say, "DAMN, THIS BOOK CRACKS ME UP"!!!! The writing --the writing --the writing!!!!!! >>>>>>Makes this story FUN!!!!!!!I knew I was in for a hell of a ride early into this story when 'The-Father-of-the-Bride', was remembering back to when his daughter was about 5 years old. {Here is a small part of the conversation}:"Daddy, Am I a Princess"? "No, Winn said, you're a very nice little girl". "Will I be a princess someday"? "Winn bent the top of his newspaper down and looked over it. It depends on whom you marry". "What does that mean"? ....... .............. [Winn explains to Daphne two different ways of how a woman becomes a princess]. (I'm leaving out a few details here) ...Then Winn returned to his reading. Daphne is not done....."Daddy"????"WHAT"?????"Am I **YOUR** princess**? "Christ, Daphne""What"? "You sound like a kid on TV""Why"? "Because You're full of treacle""What's treacle"? "Something that's too sweet. It gives you a stomachache.""She nodded, accepting this. But she pressed on. "am I *YOUR* princess?""To the best of my knowledge, I don't have any princesses. What I do have is a little girl without dignity." "What's dignity"? "Dignity is behaving the way you're suppose to so people will respect you"? "Do princesses have dignity?"."Some Do""Which Ones"? "I don't know. Maybe Grace Kelly........................The conversation WON'T stop. (Daphne won't let it) .....lolDaphne keeps pushing until her dad gives in: "ALL RIGHT, YOU ARE MY PRINCESS""Really?" :) "Absolutely""Daphne nodded then ate a grape. Then she cocked her head to one side. "Am I your FAIRY princess"? .....Then...There are powerful lines like this (between girlfriends):"Its been awhile since you've talked to him right?" Dominique pressed. "Just keep going with that. Invest some time. I mean think of it this way. How do you think it looks if you go around mooning over him for months after he dumped you?" Confession time: WHO hasn't wanted to say this to a friend??? Or...."ENOUGH ALREADY"!!!! Or.....Who can't relate to a line like this at some point in your life?: "Distant and time had been good for their friendship. Dominique had come to realize Daphne's life was not her responsibility, and now in return, almost a decade later, Daphne seemed to value her precisely 'because' she was less fun than Piper or Agatha, because she was not tiny and blonde, because she preferred quiet bars to lounges crowded with bankers, because she tried to be honest.""Seating Arrangements" is one LONG WEEKEND ---(the wedding week-end) -- an aphrodisiac --"love was in the air, weak, and snappy as static electricity". for the characters themselves: words like: swine, dirtbag, and sleazebag might enter your thoughts from time to time. This book is not for the innocent-- not a book for people who MUST love the characters. A very yuppie edge --Filled with self-obsession people--Yet--within the ethics of behavior -hedonism- family- fidelity- this book has a very alluring quality about it!!! I liked it --and LOVED the author's witty writing style!

  • Julie
    2019-01-05 16:22

    I read so many great reviews about this book that I thought I has to be great. Now, having just finished I am wondering what all the hype is about? Maybe, I am not sophisticated enough to enjoy a book about a family that I thought were not very deep and so self involve they can't be bothered to think about anyone but themselves. I don't know, it was just a big let down. The Story is about Winn, a 59 year old married father of 2 daughters. His oldest is getting married, she is seven months pregnant. His other daughter has just gone through a traumatic breakup and seems to be quite a wet blanket with major anger issues that are never addressed during the entire story. I hate to read a book where the main character is a person I dislike. I didn't find anything about him that was likable and it doesn't change. Winn doesn't change. He is too worried about status, how things look to others, fitting in with the "right" people. His is a cold fish with the hots for one of his daughters bridesmaid, Agatha. Even Agatha is a complete bitch. (sorry). I don't recommend this book at all. I will stick with my less sophisticated novels about people I can find sympathy with and or that I like.

  • Sienna
    2019-01-17 17:20

    What a puzzle. It's been a long time since I've read a book about which I felt so little. Seating Arrangements contains some beautiful writing and deftly woven dialogue, characters who seem real enough, if reassuringly unlike anyone I've ever known, and a few laugh-out-loud moments ("Why had this man of all men made so many sons who wanted to fuck his daughters?"). We get plenty of viewpoints as the story reveals itself, but the transitions between them feel contrived, as though we're meant to be admiring artistry that disdains traditional immersion. I certainly neither related to any of these narrators nor wanted to do so. To be fair, contemporary literary fiction is not one of my favorite genres, and the subset of upper-crust Cape Cod wedding-gone-wrong invokes a special brand of apathy. I've no doubt there's a market for this, and it caters to aspirational women who correlate dissatisfaction and depth and wear a lot of sky, sea, sand and shell on the coast. For my part, I'll stick with Shipstead's short stories, which have always been a delight.

  • Emi Bevacqua
    2019-01-01 20:22

    Have I all of a sudden become 85 years old and intolerant of all popular culture?? Last night I gasped and tssked through the film adaptation of The Descendants, sputtering that if viewers see that George Clooney's own children don't respect him then they're going to be all like oh well I guess it's okay if my kids don't respect me either. And now here I am reading Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead and being similarly outraged! This book, in a word, is MISOGYNISTIC. The whole premise is INAPPROPRIATE. I get that it's poking fun at a guy who wants only to achieve acceptance of his peers, and values WASPy aspirations over any paternal or marital happinesses, but jeez why does this book have to trivialize everything feminine? Why do the sisters have to hate each other so palpably? Why can't anyone show anybody any mercy, or courtesy, or chivalry? Why is the message here that sex is meaningless, and girls suck, and rich people are turds and blue collar laborers are also? And that it's funny to tell the elderly grandmother of your daughter's future husband that she is dying soon??! What??!! The whole time I read this, I was just like, why do we no longer need to have morals or ethics, what is wrong with America? I think I just need to read classics from previous centuries because first novels today totally sicken me.

  • Danielle
    2019-01-18 18:15

    Boo hoo. being rich is such a drag because sometimes your beach house on an exclusive island isn't enough, and you want to get into a private club, but they won't have you.Here's an example of some really bad writing from this book: "The lobsters had turned the clownish red of death." Blech. Bad writing. It abounds in this book. Not everywhere, but it's there. And it strikes you, and you go, "What the...?" and then you move on, try to shake it off, but you're still like, "What kind of stupid metaphor was that?" or "Jeez, she's painting the lessons with a really heavy hand," but still you keep reading.I didn't like this book. The protagonist is a stunted, old-fashioned, prudish guy - who happens to have chased a ton of tail - who is blind to his immaturity and selfishness, and who thinks he should be entitled to what other people have. I hated him. I didn't really like anyone else in the book. WASPy and elitist, and not very well-behaved, all the characters were bland and obnoxious at the same time. Don't bother reading it. You'll be bored. The weekend is boring. Even with an affair, and people falling off roofs, and whales exploding, it reads like nothing happens, and it's just blah. BLAH. Seriously.

  • Patty
    2019-01-17 20:21

    Seating ArrangementsByMaggie ShipsteadMy " in a nutshell" summary...Family and friends gather on and island for a wedding.  A mix of beliefs and personalities   lead to an interesting weekend.My thoughts after reading...Hmmm...I truly enjoyed this book.  It was very character driven but in spite of preppy goofy names...everyone was easy to remember.  It had all the things I love in a book...prep schools, clubbiness, very dysfunctional characters, odd situations,  drinking and reasonably bad behaviors.  It was yummy.  I don't want to call this a beach book but it is truly the sort of book that I love to read in the summer.  The focus of the book is the wedding of Winn and Biddy's daughter Daphne...who is very pregnant.  She is surrounded by friends and family.  Everyone is gathered at the summer island home of Winn and Biddy. Winn is frustrated by a weird crush on one of his daughter's friends.   That and his frustrated desire to get into a private golf club sort of lead to some odd antics.  Add to that his crazed heartbroken other daughter who is also behaving badly.  Then there are lots of groomsmen and bridesmaids and grandmothers and friends and even a whale who add to the trauma of this wedding.  Even a poor sick lobster plays a role in some more mighty fine dysfunction!What I loved about this book...The setting, the house, the preppy names, the drama, the adventure!What I didn't love...The image of every man there wearing trousers with whales on them and woven belts.Final thoughts...Do not think that this was a light hearted book.  It was intense and very dramatic.  At times it was very sad.I loved it slowly and deliciously. I  loved the author's writing style.

  • Michael
    2019-01-01 15:10

    Winn Van Meter and his family head for a retreat on the New England island of Waskeke. While this is normally a haven of relaxation for Winn, now it’s overshadowed by the preparation of his daughter’s wedding. A weekend with his family and his daughter’s bridesmaids only days before the big event is never a recipe for the calmness or solitude he is accustomed to in this house.Part social satire, part chick lit, this is surprisingly intelligent and humorous in between the relationship drama of the family and the women staying with them. I know many people will argue with me about this been classed as a chick lit novel (I know my wife did) but for me it very much is one. This genre normally explores the issues with modern womanhood in a light-hearted and humorous way, exploring the relationships, whether being romantic, family or friends. Seating Arrangement ticks all these books but as my wife tells me the protagonist has to be a woman; in this book, it is narrated by a man but the whole focus of the book is the relationships of his wife and his two daughters so in my opinion I think this book can still be classed as Chick Lit.This book is very much character driven; from the family rivalry, past relationships and plenty of gin soaked shenanigans. I would have liked to learn more about Winn’s life; I feel like it is often glossed over and focusing too much on the women in the house. Winn’s wife Biddy is spending all her time organising the perfect wedding, his daughter Daphne pregnant and the bride-to-be is enjoying being treated like a princess leading up to her special day. Then there is Winn’s younger daughter Livia suffering from a heartbreak and also the target for the seduction from the best man, bridesmaid Agatha and reckless flirt who Winn lusts after, plus many other secondary characters that sometimes just feel like filler subplots.Seating Arrangement borders on the cliché too many times throughout this book; it’s only the social satire elements that seem to help recover the story. I think without these elements this would just turn into a very generic chick lit novel, so I’m pleased to have read something witty and intelligent as well. I will admit there are some elements that could have been explored a little more, but most of them seem to be done perfectly. The heartbreak of Livia wasn’t explored enough for my liking and while I get that she discovered that she no longer loves Teddy, it never felt like a real resolution for that subplot. The relationship between Winn and Agatha is one of the best in the book, it hints at lust and scandal exploring the concept of fidelity, desire and even rejection. It offered a little relief from the overly cuteness of most of the relationships.Maggie Shipstead manages to explore all different relationship types as well as New England society. Parts of this book really didn’t work for me and I was in constant fear of falling too much into the realm of the cliché but I’m surprised with the way this book turned out. Personally I would like a bit more scandal but in the end this was a light read with some very intelligent aspects that are worth exploring. For lovers of light reading, the satirical elements can be easily overlooked or missed but for people looking for them, you will be delighted with what you find within this book.This review originally appeared on my blog;

  • Ron Charles
    2018-12-25 13:04

    When I was an English teacher, we always ended the school year with a ritual argument about summer reading. My erudite opponents claimed students should gird their loins and trudge through George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” or some other Improving Literature. My free-spirited comrades and I countered that June, July and August were months to let sun-kissed students wander barefoot through the stacks, picking at whim whatever titles they might enjoy.Many of us are still silently carrying out that argument when we pack our suitcases — or load our e-readers: Should I spend a week at Virginia Beach with Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” or E L James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey”?Before you get all tied up in knots about that decision, consider our sunny spread on summer reading. The spirit of compromise may have abandoned official Washington, but it still graces these pages, where treasure and pleasure frolic in halcyon harmony. Best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner recommends three good novels that feature bad vacations, which should put in perspective any mix-ups you encounter on the road. We’ve also got a helpful guide to using e-readers on the beach and our first roundup of romance novels in years. To get you thinking about what to pack, we’ve asked some prominent D.C. figures what titles they’re lusting to read , and the Book World editors look back at their favorites so far this year — and ahead to some promising titles this fall.For a sophisticated summer romp, I recommend “Seating Arrangements” (Knopf, $25.95), the first novel from Maggie Shipstead. Set over three warm days on a WASP-y island off the coast of New England, it’s impeccably well-bred for vacation reading. The author is a graduate of Harvard and a dedicated student of the Darien club set, and once she grabs these characters by their pearl chokers and duck belts, she never lets go.Like any classic romantic comedy, “Seating Arrangements” culminates in a wedding, but getting down the aisle just about kills the father of the bride. At 59, Winn Van Meter has spent his whole buttoned-down life on a rickety perch of the upper class, trying to fulfill Brahmin expectations. Resigned to the inevitability of “death, taxes, and family,” he’s a persnickety, joyless man, easily annoyed by others’ misbehavior or anyone who impedes his quest for “some axis of perfect exclusivity.” His elder, pregnant daughter’s wedding is just the sort of awkward extravagance that tweaks his bow tie — “a family reunion and missile launch and state dinner all rolled into one.”Among the guests arriving in madras shorts and L.L. Bean sandals is one gorgeous young bridesmaid unburdened by qualms about hooking up with an older, married man like Winn. Before the rice flies, there will be broken hearts and broken bones, falling bodies and exploding whales, consummations devoutly to be wished and interrupted. Can a family that believes “love was something to be tamped down beneath decorum” ever find romance?At just 28 years old, Shipstead captures the bride’s forlorn sister in all her wounded disappointments, and she’s particularly astute in her portrayal of a young Egyptian bridesmaid who regards the troubles of the 1 percent with muted exasperation. What’s more surprising is Shipstead’s unnerving insight into the comic-tragedy of middle-aged men, that mixture of smothered envy, aspiration and lust that mutates into irritated superiority. (So I’ve heard. . . .)The sea breeze blowing through “Seating Arrangements” is Shipstead’s affection for these spoiled people, her tender handling of their sorrows and longings, which you’ll respond to even if you don’t summer on Nantucket. She’s already producing the kind of humane comedy we expect from Richard Russo and Elinor Lipman.Emerging from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the novel displays that institutional syndrome in which every sentence strains to be the cleverest one in the class, but maybe that’s just my envy talking. Shipstead’s weave of wit and observation continually delights. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday she trades her Lilly Pulitzer for something from Joseph Pulitzer.

  • Anmiryam
    2019-01-06 14:22

    A smart and funny look at a family confronting change -- a wedding, a soon to be born grandchild, prospective infidelity, a daughter destabilized by the end of her first serious relationship and, most of all, the unwinding of decades of self-delusions. Maggie Shipstead's portrayal of the Van Meter's during the few days before the eldest daughter's wedding is a pitch perfect satire and a well crafted examination of a individuals confronting their long held beliefs about themselves and their relationships. At the center of the tale is Winn Van Meter, now approaching sixty, Winn has spent his life measuring his worth by his place in the narrow universe of WASP society. Ivy League education? Yes. Belong to the right clubs? Yes. Proper disdain for ostentatious signs of wealth - yes. Successful career - yes. Blond wife, but practical wife with appropriate nickname - yes. Sons set to follow in his footsteps - no, only daughters, alien creatures he has never understood how to fit into the model. Plus, he's been waiting to join the Pequod Club for three years and he's getting worried. Could the father of his daughter's ex-boyfriend, who also happens to be the man he kept out of a club at Harvard be behind it? Can he resist his daughter's bridesmaid? Could his whole world be ready to fall apart? Winn, it soon becomes clear has never learned to inhabit his own skin, to be himself. In the run up to the wedding he will irritate us, amuse us and make us cringe at his foolishness, but through it all, we feel for him and root for him. It is this dual perspective on flawed characters that is so elegantly handled by Shipstead that it's hard to believe that this is her first novel.A great summer read, whether you are in New England or not.

  • DeB MaRtEnS
    2019-01-20 18:59

    Depressing. There, I said it. Ok, there is critical acclaim for this young author describing a jaded view of life among the "monied classes" on the Eastern Seaboard, with their pretensions outweighing in value apparently the love of their children. She makes a good effort, I guess. Life is messy for everyone, in spite of our efforts to make everything pretty, belong to the best clubs, wear the right clothes. We are all human but the monied classes get to experience life differently, with or without awareness. The novel is messy, mucky, mocking and just plain old dispiriting. The event of a wedding creates upheaval in the lives, manifested in their inner, if not outer paradigm. Stiff, proper adults examine their stiff, proper pasts among the sexually charged energy of the young men and women arriving for the event. One night stands proliferate and create hard feelings and yearning for better futures among them all. Seating Arrangements have to be thought through carefully... every chance for the future of one's successful and happy life must be considered, offers the Mother of the Bride.Of course, the reader is meant to critically ask the pertinent important question, the theme of this novel, "What is a happy, successful life?" Even though it ends with everyone having a real life version of some sort of happiness, - I closed the book no wiser nor more warmly attached to the characters than when I had begun reading it.

  • Arlene
    2018-12-29 19:24

    Shipstead has a promising setting (the New England island of Waskeke) and a promising scenario (a wedding), but she doesn't manage to execute a compelling telling of the story. She doesn't make the main characters likeable enough—they are all exasperating—and those characters spend the days leading up to the wedding taking actions that we don't understand (or believe?). Shipstead provides back stories (boy, does she provide back stories) but the stories outline events without providing the psychological insights we need to understand the motivations of the characters. Just when we think we have a character figured out, he or she does something incongruous so understanding slips from our grasp. We don't learn to like the characters, and we don't understand why they are doing what they're doing. That's never a good recipe for a book.The characters don't really seem to fit together either. The bride, Daphne Van Meter, has terrible taste in bridesmaids. We have to wonder why she thought such a disparate bunch of women would be a good idea.However, this book as received a lot of positive reviews. It could be a good book for the beach this summer. It's set on an island, some of the action takes place on a beach, and it's about a summer wedding. Good fit? Maybe.

  • Ana Ovejero
    2019-01-09 19:08

    This story happens during a weekend, just three days of a family celebrating the weeding of the eldest. However, the author is able to show in that short period of time the strenghts and weaknesses of the human heart.With a tragicomedy tone, we meet the issues unearthed by the fact that the whole family Van Meters is together in their beach house. Upper class, wealthy, member of golf clubs, the father Winn seems to have everything he wants. However, we soon discover his insecurities as he is obsessed with his business rival ( who, btw, is the father of his second daughter's exboyfriend and married to Winn's high school girlfriend) and having a serious crush with one of the young maid of honour, the alluring Dominique.His wife is the classic glamorous wife but who has a sister, Celeste, proned to alcoholic outburts, saying whatever crosses her mind. And real life gives her a lot of material: the bride is getting married because she is pregnant (the dress needing readjustments to cover her eight-month belly), her sister Livia, heart-broken, struggling not to fall for the best man, a positively 'bad boy', a dead whale lying in the beach nearby, the lobsters bought for the special dinner with the in-laws missing, and more!!!!The story is so well-developed that you find new details in every page, giving the characters and the plot the complexity and texture present in everyday life. You can symphatise or hate the characters' decisions and motives, but you won't be indiferent, you will feel the need to take sides, to acknowledge people's urges as possibly your own, to question yourself 'what would have I done in his/her place, to face the fact that we, all of us, are simply humans.

  • Jen
    2018-12-30 15:24

    In a fictional universe, this is exactly the book an English major would write, assuming the author of said fictional universe had a really poor opinion of English majors. This book is full of DEEP MEANING, and UNDER CURRENTS, and BIG EVOCATIVE WORDS. You can almost hear the author thinking after a particularly annoying sentence "ooh that's good." The story is about Winn, an unlikeable guy in New England, who is going to host his pregnant daughter's wedding on an island called Waskeke. He's a horrid person. His wife is insipid, his daughter a spoiled brat, his other daughter is an emotional trainwreck. And then there's the drunk aunt. Basically it's the worst house party ever. There is not one person in this book that I didn't hate.It doesn't help that the point of view switches randomly to give us DEEP MEANINGFUL BACKGROUND STORIES on every single person. I don't care that much about people I actually know. Winn, for someone who is successful, is as socially inept as a person can get. Any bank would have fired him by now for being a jerk.Livia, the second daughter, has been heartbroken, of course she has. Winn is a jerk about it...of course he is. Biddy, the wife...named Biddy, is emotionally distant...of course she is. Daphne the other daughter is a moron. It's just a pile of awful people in a pile of awful situations saying DEEP MEANINGFUL THINGS filled with DEEP MEANING. All building to what I think the author intended to be a DEEP MEANINGFUL ending. In truth, it was just a blissful end to the torture.

  • Jill
    2018-12-26 20:04

    If you dissected the pages of Seating Arrangements trying to locate its literary heart, you’d find nothing bloody or moving or living but instead a cold, hard machine that transmits keen social analysis and psychological insight but nothing emotional or affective. Which is, perhaps, the point. Just look at the title—Seating Arrangements—it’s about a marriage, a celebration of love uniting of two people, but the title has reduced it to the behind-the-scenes mechanics required to organize such an event. This novel follows several empty-chested blue blood WASPs preparing for the wedding, but at its core it’s about Winn, the patriarch of the Van Meter family, a man who values sons more than daughters yet only has daughters, who values various country club memberships more than the kind devotion of his wife, and who decides to have an existential crisis the weekend of his daughter’s nuptials. Winn is a stiff character for whom I could not summon one iota of empathy, therefore I was never quite invested here. There were big moments, like an exploding whale, that kept me reading, but I didn’t care how anything turned out. VAGUELY SPOILERISH DISCUSSION OF ENDING:Despite my indifference, the story hummed right along and I was particularly enjoying Shipstead’s sharp eye for human behavior until the disappointing ending. Shipstead spends the entire book critiquing the vacuity of American “aristocracy,” mostly by skewering Winn’s desperately devolving attempts to recapture youth and meaning. She lowers his character more and more but at the end, Shipstead grants him the opportunity to redeem himself by escaping his soulless family life and depraved WASPy social set. It felt disingenuous and inauthentic. I’m not against redemption narratives; in fact I kind of love them. But Winn is characterized throughout as unredeemable, a man who has made all the wrong choices without knowing it and is just beginning to feel something—guilt, regret, anger?—about his unbalanced life ledger. I wanted him to suffer for it! The way Shipstead writes him, he deserves to suffer for being a simple and simpering man, a man who wants to have an affair with a hot young blonde but cannot even rally himself to consummate this desire. The ending, therefore, feels a bit neat. I would have preferred a more ambiguous or even blatantly dark ending for these characters. But oh well, I’ll forgive Shipstead this and give her second novel, Astonish Me, the old college try.

  • Rebecca Foster
    2018-12-23 17:21

    Seating Arrangements was one of my favorite debut novels of 2012. Taking place over just three days, it is the tale of an upper middle class family preparing for their (heavily pregnant) daughter’s wedding weekend on an island off Connecticut. There are shades of Jonathan Franzen (the wry look at family dysfunction), of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, and of Zadie Smith (e.g. the subtle class considerations of On Beauty). But the novel is also reminiscent of Carol Shields’s Larry’s Party and Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife – Shipstead is adept at capturing family interaction and social gatherings, petty feuds and cliques. All this to say: Shipstead has some top-notch literary antecedents, from whom she’s adapted a striking talent for characterization and plotting.The novel is equally canny at portraying humor and seriousness. Family quirks and ridiculous situations (such as an exploding whale carcass and a scene in which the family patriarch ends up hanging from the weather vane on the new-build house of his nemesis) share space with regret and genuine pathos. Shipstead’s percipient wisdom on such topics as the psychology of emotions, sex, and family heritage is well beyond her years. She’s right up there with the best contemporary realist novelists working in America, and I’m excited to see what she comes out with next.

  • Danielle
    2019-01-07 14:08

    Hillarious satire of dysfunctional family realtionships at a WASPy wedding...sounds like totally my thing. It wasn't. I found the writing tedious and uniteresting. The characters were unlikeable and the relationships seemed contrived and not very compelling. I picked this book up on a whim because I was looking for a lighter read after several very heavy novels. Hoping it would be a fun, light, end of summer novel. And the author's bio indicated she has written critically acclaimed short stories - and I'm a big fan of short stories. But this book disappointed me in every way possible.

  • Cynthia
    2019-01-03 13:12

    Several illicit affairs (some consummated physically, others mere farce), a wedding, a golf cart accident, and two pregnancies….not to mention the weathervane incident.I found “Seating Arrangements” hilariously funny. It centers around a very pregnant woman, Daphne, who’s having her wedding on Cape Cod. Her father, Winn, who fancies himself an old guard aristocrat, is a consummate narcissist who somehow manages to be lovable. He couldn’t see another person’s point of view if it came up and bit him on the ankle….which it almost literally does. This makes for pathos and humor. Of course all families have challenging members and in emotional settings, such as weddings, all heck can break loose. Just about everything you can imagine does break loose at Daphne’s shindig. The bridesmaids and groomsmen are looking for Mr. and Ms. Right Now. They find them…..sometimes in multiples. Mom is rallying her troops and trying to keep warring factions apart. Hence the title “Seating Arrangements”. Who was married to whom but now remarried? Who isn’t talking to whom? Who kicked who’s dog and didn’t even apologize? They must be kept at separate tables.Each event leads to more mishaps and complications from the initial family gathering at the Cape house, the reunion between family members long apart, the delivery of the flowers, the shopping for the upcoming party, the pre-wedding backyard get together putting together soon to be related families, the makeup rehearsals (what the heck is *this about?), the rehearsal dinner, and then the wedding. Each is fraught. Relationships are at the core of this tale and Shipstead portrays them with excellence. The Bride’s parents are long married Winn and Biddy. They both went to ivy league colleges, have a veneer of old money or aspire to it, Winn has an unspecified important job and makes plenty of money but at heart their marriage is like many others…..complicated. The ever faithful Winn decides that this weekend is his time to give in to his lust. Biddy has always assumed he’s done this but is content that he hasn’t put it in her face. In the end they surprise themselves and one another. Youngest daughter, Livia, has just suffered the loss of her first and only love. She flounders like a fish out of water trying to find some resolution or at least peace. Throughout the book Shipstead aptly uses nautical references and metaphors much to our enjoyment. The sea and its landscape add depth and atmosphere.On the surface this book might seem like chick lit or beach fare and it can easily serve as such but in reality its incredibly well written and has astounding emotional depth and as I’ve already mentioned the humor isn’t too shabby either though probably not to everyone’s taste. It sure worked for me.

  • Antonia
    2019-01-17 15:58

    Social comedy — or satire — WASPY, old money, upper-class New England family — loves, losses, longings. It all takes place on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of a wedding weekend on an island off East Coast, where all the bride’s and groom’s families have convened. It would literally make a great “beach read.” The fun is all the stuff that’s going on beneath the surface and, as I read somewhere, the class between appearances and authenticity. There’s one thoroughly pretentious and unlikable main character. You get such a feeling of satisfaction when something goes wrong for him. I’d have liked to have heard more about some of the more likable ones! It’s not a perfect novel, but a fine debut, and I really enjoyed reading it. One reviewer said: “I know it is a running joke that waspy types go by odd nicknames but in a group of twenty people how probable is it to find a Biddy, Fee, Dicky Jr., Fenn, Winn, Teddy, Tipton, Greyson, Sterling, Oatsie, and Mopsy?” I guess it’s not likely, which only reinforces my feeling that this is mainly satire. and should be read that way. It’s not a story in which you care about the characters. But it’s kind of a hoot. Another reviewer said, “If you like your protagonists to be, well, likable, don't bother, because the world doesn't need another reviewer judging an author for not writing characters of sterling character. Maggie Shipstead has written a story in which those dudes you see in whale-embroidered pants turn out to be exactly what one would expect from those dudes you see in whale-embroidered pants.” That cracks me up. And it’s so true. Smart and very funny at times. I’m really tired of the word “romp” used to describe a novel, but ahem, some romping does ensue. And some delightful dialogue! The kind of book (again, beach read) that could be insubstantial, just froth and fluff. But the writing saves it, in fact makes it such a pleasure to read. Shipstead certainly hooked me.

  • (Lonestarlibrarian) Keddy Ann Outlaw
    2019-01-15 14:03

    You've heard of Bridezilla -- well everyone but the bride and the bride's mother deserves a "zilla" in this book. Maybe it's WASPzilla! There are a lot of people wearing clothing with whales or ducks on them, many references to Princeton, tennis clubs, Bloody Marys, etc. The action all takes place in and around Winn Van Meter's New England summer home on the weekend his pregnant daughter is getting married. Winn lusts after one of the bridesmaids. The bride's sister tries to forge a rebound romance with one of her soon-to-be brother-in-laws. It's all very morose and most everyone is dissillusioned with life (again, except the perfectly happy bride, who really we know very little about as her POV is not much included, but she does smile a lot). I really did not much enjoy spending this particular weekend with any of them. At first the writing reminded me a bit of Updike, but that it was not long before I threw that idea out. Yes, the writing was accomplished, but the characters never became flesh and blood to me, despite many incidents involving either/or flesh and blood. Good try, but for me, something vital and soulful was missing from this novel.

  • Sara
    2019-01-07 16:06

    The best part about this read is the language and the writing – how Shipstead crafts a sentence. It’s really lovely to work your way through. Lots of preppy and aquatic references that, rather than annoy, help to solidify the people and setting of the novel. What’s more WASP-y than a theme, no?I liked that the threads of plotlines began to form into a picture slowly. I think I was almost halfway through the book when it began to dawn on me that the central characters were going to be the father, Winn, and his youngest daughter, Livia. It was interesting to see Shipstead drill down into these two characters layering stories and experiences from multiple characters until you had a clear view of these two in particular.The novel starts with the mirrored pregnancies of the two sisters, and moves on to vast amounts of other mirrored situations: Breakups, sex, and – my personal favorite – a golf cart injury and exploding whale. That Winn and Lydia both sustain a multitude of layered injustices on the same morning from things they each hold holy in this world was easily one of the finest crafted moments of the novel. One that has me rooting for the future career of Shipstead.However, I mus back pedal for a moment. While on paper this book is lovely…Beautiful writing: Check.Interesting plot entanglements: Check.Ability to hold a theme without annoying or overpowering: Check.But…Actual enjoyment/satisfaction with the book as a while: Meh.My big issue was Winn. I didn’t like him. Not that I have to necessarily ‘like’ a character to love a book. I’d push Briony Tallis (from Ian McEwan’s Atonement) off a bridge right now if she were a real person. Still, I Loved Atonement. I think that it was that Winn slowly lost my good opinion. The more the book revealed of him the less I sympathized with his character. That’s an important distinction. You can sympathize with a character without liking them. By the time it became clear Winn was in the midst of a full-fledged mid-life crisis, I also knew his womanizing, unloving, stubbornly lonely, righteous past. Quite frankly, if the end of this novel was a tribute to letting go, or moving on, it was far too late for me to want or allow Winn to do that. The women in his life deserved more.Rating: 3/5. A beautiful first novel lost a bit of its sparkle due to the father of the bride.

  • Kellie Lambert
    2019-01-02 12:11

    I hesitated to review this book because while I really enjoyed it, it was messy. It read sort of like a People magazine, with the affairs, the drama, the sort of amoral look on life (I like reading, People, don't get me wrong.) I'll just say it--I didn't want to be judged for enjoying the drama. That being said, the book was well-written. The pacing of the story was great, it kept me guessing, and there were some really unsettling, thought-provoking scenes in it that left me thinking. I know a book is good when Zac asks me what I'm reading (which is daily when he sees me reading on my phone...I order google play books and read anywhere we are) and I end up telling him the synopsis of the whole novel, as if it's a story I heard from a neighbor. I found myself doing that with this book because I wanted to process what was happening to the characters. It had sort of that messy, real feel that life does--that things are sticky, it's not just black and white, in which you can stick a character in the 'bad' or 'good' guy category.The story follows a father who is driving to his family's vacation home on the east coast for his daughter's wedding. The house is teeming with wedding guests, bridesmaids, and all of this is getting him in a nervous twist. He finds himself in a precarious position with one of the daughter's bridesmaids, his other daughter is recovering emotionally from an abortion, and his wife is grappling with her identity as she watches her husband start an affair. It sounds like a seedy novel, but it was well-written and gave pause for asking how we live truly authentic lives, keep sight of who we are, and the turmoil that comes when you put a family in close quarters. I wouldn't say this is the best book I've read all year, or really profound, but I read it fairly quickly and it had some of those awkward scenes reminiscent of Father of the Bride that are just too interesting to gloss over. I'll admit though---upon finishing it, I haven't given it another thought. It was for pure enjoyment/passing the time. (3 out of 5 stars)

  • Jane
    2019-01-21 12:59

    The seating arrangements at a wedding and last few days before "I do" take careful planning. Maggie Shipstead takes this premise and weaves a sometimes humorous, often dark novel centered on the father and sister of the bride with the rest of the bridal party and the setting - an East Coast island one imagines is fashioned on Martha's Vineyard - as supporting characters. Making these two people, who usually have small roles in a wedding, be the novel's focal point skews the novel beautifully.The dialogue and unique scenes (an exploding whale, for instance, and a 'sick' lobster playing possum) are clever. Pieces of these people's lives, especially the sister, left me aching for them. And the father's toast at the wedding: "Marriage, even a happy marriage like my own and like I'm sure yours will be, is a precursor to death..." left me with a both laughing and with a queasy feeling in the pit of stomach. Well done. In fact, the only drawback of the book is that some of the characters are too one-dimensional to be believable..

  • Lisa
    2019-01-20 17:59

    I started this book once but couldn't get into it - who are these people? there's no one here I want to spend time with - and put it down. But after hearing Maggie Shipstead talk about it I gave it another try and ended up liking it a lot. She is not herself a New England WASP but she has spent time in that world, so her own perspective is that of Dominique, the outsider in the group. Shipstead does a great job of capturing the different levels of self-awareness in her characters, from very little (Winn) to a great deal (Dominique). She uses these gaps to give us some scenes that are very funny and some that are heartbreaking. She also gives each character a very distinct voice: I also got a good sense of most of the more minor characters, like the wedding planner. While it's easy to be critical of the Van Meters and their way of life, I also found it easy to sympathize, particularly with the younger daughter Livia. I could imagine her making a break from ways of the clan and leading an interesting life.If you're not in the throes of planning a wedding, give it a try.

  • Marilyn
    2019-01-17 17:25

    Perhaps I'm jaded. I just cannot understand what the hype is about this sad little debut novel.I guess realizing that I am part of the now infamous 47% of Americans, I'm finding it rather taxing to feel terribly awful for an affluent family of misfits whose terrible woes include not getting into a golf club and the exhausting task of looking the other way on a husband's imagined infidelities.Nope. I could not relate, nor would I want to, to Biddy and Daphne and Winn and Sterling and Piper and any of the other folks orbiting the Van Meter clan as they come together in their summer island home in New England to celebrate the wedding of one very pregnant (for shame!) Daphne and her intended (another silver-spoon-fed-baby) Greyson. Yawn. Their names alone are hard to swallow.The only character worth an ounce of pity is the resident basket case daughter, Livia, whose pain from a recent break-up feels like an albatross hanging on the fringes of the story throughout the book. Most everyone else is so unlikeable, in particular, the main 'voice' of the book, Winn Van Meter, an old-money near-cad who is so pathetic in words and thought, and so arrogant in appearance and action you can't even feel sorry for him. Of course the author did throw in the token 'intelligent' character of Dominique - a worldly young women who thinks and says what most readers probably think and say: That these WASP-y little souls are tragically comical at best.Most of the time I was reading I found I was fantasizing about more exciting things, like folding laundry. I think I must have missed the point - whatever that point is, was, or might have been.Well, I have wasted enough time on a book I barely got through. Not worth the time I put into it.

  • Michelle
    2019-01-19 19:21

    3.5 stars. Big WASPs, little problems. That pretty much sums up this book. Friends and family descend on ancestral beach/island home for the (shotgun) wedding of the oldest daughter then proceed to obsess incessantly about shit that doesn’t matter. Livia is probably the only one with an actual problem but she, of course, focuses on the inane (I have no doubt this was done on purpose). The main protagonist (in my view anyway) is Winn, father of the bride, but we do get a peek into others’ minds/viewpoints. Winn is a completely irritating character but also somehow relatable. I guess you could say he is one hundred percent believable and authentic. No character in this is all that interesting, save the aunt/sister in law and maybe a bridesmaid or groomsman or two. This does not sound like a ringing endorsement of the book but I actually quite enjoyed it. The writing is sharp and at times funny. A couple of passages I liked:“But now, instead, there was this girl-child who would grow breasts and take another man’s name and sprout new branches on an unknown family tree and do all sorts of traitorous things a son would not do.”Also I loved this: “And Daphne respected other people’s privacy, even her sister’s, a quality sometimes mistaken for general lack of curiosity.” (I can totally relate).If you like contemporary fiction set on a New England beach and featuring people with embroidered whales on their khakis this is the book for you. Even if it’s not, there is much to admire here if you go in knowing this is not full of great people doing great things. It’s all very ordinary (in an upper middle class WASP sort of way). Still, the writing is pretty much perfect and I enjoyed hanging out with these characters, maybe because I feel I already know them.

  • Andy Miller
    2019-01-10 18:13

    This novel is touted as a satire of upper crust New England WASPish life. However, there are too many chapters, too many pages devoted to the details of the exclusive social clubs at Harvard, the private clubs of New York and Boston and the golf club on the island where the novel takes place for a true satire, sadly the novel is more about this odd life style than a satire of itThe novel takes place on an New England resort island during a family wedding. The novel shifts its point of views with most first person narratives from Winn,the 59 year old father of the bride whose biggest life accomplishment was admission to a private club at Harvard and whose biggest goal is to be admitted to the golf club on the island. We also narratives from Winn's wife, Biddy, their youngest daughter who has just suffered a break up and Dominique, a bridesmaid who was born in Egypt and apparently is supposed to provide the satirical view point. That perspective fails largely because her character is never developed and comes off empty. Ironically, while the novel is built around the wedding and the bride and groom may be the two healthiest characters in this depressing novel, there are no first person accounts by either of themThere is some witty writing, some funny scenes, some poignant moments, but at the end the satire failed and the novel finished as a book about a family and values that I would want to avoid at all costs