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Seating Arrangments, by Maggie Shipstead

Vista Book Group: Seating Arrangements

The Vista Book Group met in June to discuss Maggie Shipstead's debut novel Seating Arrangements, which won the Dylan Thomas Prize and the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction.

Book reviews of Seating Arrangements have said that it "artfully delivers a poignant reflection on the enduring if frustrating nature of love, hope, and family" with "vibrant prose" and characters that "are an accumulation of over-the-top WASP-like traits."  So, grab your copy of the Official Preppy Handbook and get ready for characters named Winn, Biddy and Oatsie as well as characters nattily attired in slacks with whales embroidered on them.

The Van Meters have gathered at their family retreat on the island of Waskeke to celebrate the marriage of daughter Daphne to the impeccably appropriate Greyson Duff. The weekend is full of champagne and salt air, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust stir beneath the surface.

Winn Van Meter, father of the bride, is not having a good time. Baffled and preoccupied by his exclusion from an island social club, he’s also tormented by an inappropriate crush on Daphne’s beguiling bridesmaid, Agatha, and by the fear that his daughter, Livia—recently heartbroken by the son of his greatest rival—is a too-ready target for the wiles of Greyson’s best man. When old resentments, a beached whale and an escaped lobster are added to the mix, the wedding that should have gone off with military precision threatens to become a spectacle of misbehavior.

Book Synopsis, maggieshipstead.com

Book group members rated the book 3.3 out of 5 stars.  Seating Arrangements made for an interesting discussion as members debated the believabilty of the "WASPishness" (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) of the characters and situation, as well as whether some of the characters were as fleshed out as they could have been. The book provides frequent shifts in point of view from Winn, the father of bride, to heartbroken sister of the bride, Livia.  Some book group members felt that the book might have worked better if there have been one point of view or an omniscient narrator.  All agreed that Shipstead's writing was delicious and that she provided both funny and touching moments in this "comedy of manners."

Check out some of the complementary books, read-a-likes and author-alikes below:


Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Amazon Says: Maggie Shipstead’s irresistible social satire, set on an exclusive New England island over a wedding weekend in June, provides a deliciously biting glimpse into the lives of more...
Amazon Says: Maggie Shipstead’s irresistible social satire, set on an exclusive New England island over a wedding weekend in June, provides a deliciously biting glimpse into the lives of the well-bred and ill-behaved. 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.  less...
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Astonish Me: A novel by Maggie Shipstead
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Amazon Says: From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations. Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many. After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan. Combining a sweeping, operatic plot with subtly observed characters, Maggie Shipstead gives us a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, Astonish Me confirms Shipstead’s range and ability and raises provocative questions about the nature of talent, the choices we must make in search of fulfillment, and how we square the yearning for comfort with the demands of art.  less...
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