An "engrossing" (New York Times Book Review) novel about a reunion of friends and the resurgence of memoryfrom national bestselling author Anita Shreve
At an inn in the Berkshire Mountains, seven former schoolmates gather to celebrate a weddinga reunion that becomes the occasion of astonishing revelations as the friends collectively recall a long-ago night that indelibly marked each of their lives. Written with the fluent narrative artistry that distinguishes all of Anita Shreve's bestselling novels, A Wedding in December acutely probes the mysteries of the human heart and the endless allure of paths not taken.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|Edition description:||Large Print|
|Product dimensions:||6.37(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of 14 previous novels, including Testimony; The Pilot's Wife, which was a selection of Oprah's Book Club; and The Weight of Water, which was a finalist for England's Orange prize. She lives in Massachusetts.
Hometown:New Hampshire; Massachusetts
Date of Birth:1946
Education:B.A., Tufts University
Read an Excerpt
A Wedding in December
By Anita Shreve
Little, BrownCopyright © 2005 Anita Shreve
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe glaciers are receding," she said. Nora peered through the window as if she could see the progress of said glaciers some ten thousand miles north. "I read it in the paper. This morning."
The view, Harrison had noted before he'd sat down, was of still-green lawns and dormant rosebushes, of a wrought iron fence and a garden bench, of ornamental grasses and white pines. Beyond the considerable acreage was a steel ribbon of river and beyond that a range of mountains, blue-gray in the morning light.
"The birds must be confused," he said.
"They are. I ... I see them flying north all the time."
"Is it bad for business?"
"No. Not really. No one's canceled. Though the ski areas are suffering."
Nora left the window and moved to the chair opposite. He watched her cross her legs, a cuff riding just above the edge of a black leather boot and making a slim bracelet of smooth white skin. Harrison superimposed the woman he saw now over the memory of the seventeen-year-old girl he'd once known, a girl with a soft face and large almond-shaped eyes, a girl who had been graceful in her movements. The woman before him was forty-four, and some of the softness had left her face. Her hair was different, too. She wore it short, swept behind her ears, a cut that looked more European than American.
When they'd met just moments earlier at the foot of the stairs in the front hallway, Nora had been standing at a small reception desk. She'd glanced up and seen Harrison, and for a moment she'd examined him as an innkeeper might a guest one had not yet attended to. Harrison, she'd said then, advancing, and his own smile had begun. As Nora had embraced him, Harrison had felt both unnerved and buoyant-a cork floating in uncharted waters.
"Your ... your room is comfortable?" she asked.
He remembered this about her. The slight stutter, as if hesitant to speak. No, not a stutter; more a stutter step.
"Very," he said. "Great views."
"Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee?"
"Coffee would be fine. That's quite a machine there."
"It makes espresso with a lot of crema," she said, standing. "It's a draw, actually. Some of the guests have said they've come back for the coffee in the library. Well, for that and for the dumbwaiter. I put the dining room upstairs. To take advantage of the views."
On either side of the bookshelves were half columns, and below those shelves were cabinets. On one wall, there was a built-in bench upholstered in lichen stripes. The windows-a set of three facing west-had panes in the tops only, so that from the leather couch on which Harrison was seated he had an unobstructed view of the mountains.
"How long has this been an inn?" he asked.
"I was sorry to hear about your husband."
"You sent a card."
He nodded, surprised that Nora remembered. There must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cards for such a distinguished man.
"Renovations," she said, making a gesture so as to take in the entire building. "Renovations had to be made."
"You've done a terrific job," he replied, slightly jarred by the non sequitur.
Harrison had followed signs from the center of town to the inn and then had taken the long drive up the hill to the top. When he'd reached the parking lot, the view of the Berkshire Mountains had opened up and stopped his heart in the same way that, as a boy at Cinerama, his heart had always paused as the camera had soared up and over a cliff edge to reveal the Grand Canyon or the Rift Valley or the ice fields of Antarctica.
He'd walked with his suitcase to the front steps, noting along the way the pruned bushes, the raked lawns, and, in a maze that had perhaps lost its challenge, the expertly trimmed hedges. The inn was sheathed in white clapboards and shingles and sported a chimney that tilted slightly forward. The windows, unadorned, shone in the morning light. Like many houses built at the turn of the century, it had gables of differing widths and porches sprouting unconventionally at odd angles. The outline of the roof, Harrison thought, would be almost impossible to draw from memory.
Inside, the inn had a crisp edge that had been accomplished in part, Harrison thought, with a great deal of white paint and chrome. Much as he admired the inn, however, he wondered if visitors ever lamented the lost house, the one Carl Laski had inhabited.
"This used to be an inn. Years ago," Nora said. "After World War II, it became a private home. There's an early photograph. Behind you on the wall."
Harrison stood and leaned in toward the wall, balancing himself with his hand on the back of the couch. The photograph, framed in dark walnut, was remarkably detailed and clear, every blade of grass and twig made distinct with a kind of vision denied the naked eye. The picture was of a white shingled building with a cupola on its roof. It looked to be November or early March, to judge from the light dusting of snow that outlined the furrows of a garden. At the river's edge, there was a trail of mist, but he saw, on closer inspection, that it was really smoke from a moving train, the train itself a blur, merely a shadow.
"The photograph dates from 1912," Nora said. "It was made from a glass negative. There's a rose garden there. And a racetrack."
Harrison sat again on the couch and wondered if anyone else had arrived yet. He had wanted to be the first, to see Nora without the noise of the others. "It was an inn, then a house, and then an inn again?" he asked.
She smiled at his confusion. "When Carl and I moved here, it was a private house. We lived here for fifteen years. After he died ... after he died, I had the idea of reconverting it to an inn. It had always wanted to be an inn. Even when it was a house."
"How many rooms are there?"
"There used to be twenty-two."
"How did you manage?"
"We closed most of the rooms off. Would you like more coffee?"
"No thanks. I'm fine. Any of the others here yet?"
"Agnes said she'd be here by lunch. Bill and Bridget, too. Rob ... Rob won't be here until later."
"Rob's coming?" Harrison asked with pleasure. He hadn't seen Rob Zoar in ... well, in twenty-seven years. Harrison was startled by the number and recalculated. Yes, twenty-seven. "He's in Boston now, isn't he? I think I read that."
"He performs all over the world. He gets wonderful reviews."
"I was surprised to hear he was a pianist. He kept it quiet at Kidd, didn't he?"
"I think he tried to resist it."
"It seems like this wedding came together very fast," he said.
Too fast for Harrison's wife, Evelyn, to rearrange her schedule. Bill had sent Harrison an e-mail saying that he and Bridget were getting married-at the inn-and he wanted Harrison and Evelyn to come. Harrison and Bill had for a time kept in touch (their families had gone skiing together twice), but Harrison had had no idea at all about Bill and Bridget.
"Bridget's sick," Nora added. "It's why Bill wants to do it now."
"How sick?" Harrison asked.
"Very," Nora said, her face tight. "Do you remember them together?"
"At school? Of course." Bill had been a muscular catcher, a consistent hitter with power who had routinely sent the baseball over the fence. Bridget, a serious girl, was pretty in a slightly plump way. In another era, she'd have been a beauty. The couple used to cross the campus so entwined it was as if they were one creature. Harrison recalled how disillusioned he had been when he'd heard that each had married someone else.
"How did they reconnect?" he asked now.
"Our twenty-fifth. Did you ever go to any of the reunions?"
He shook his head. He'd told himself that he hadn't gone for Evelyn's sake. She was Canadian, she wouldn't have known anyone, the journey would have consumed too many of her precious days off. But Harrison couldn't satisfactorily explain why he hadn't gone by himself. The simple answer, he supposed, was that he hadn't wanted to. The sight of the invitations had produced in him an anxiety he had no intention of exploring. Even this small reunion-this hasty wedding-had made him hesitate.
"You?" he asked.
Nora shook her head, and Harrison was not surprised. He could not imagine Carl Laski at a Kidd reunion.
"Have you seen any of the others?" Nora asked. "Since school, I mean?"
"Well, Bill," he said. "And I met Jerry in New York about five years ago. We had drinks."
"He's coming with his wife, Julie," Nora said. "What was it like, meeting Jerry?"
"He mostly wanted me to know how successful he'd become," Harrison said and then shrugged to take the edge off the unkind comment.
"You're staying until Sunday?" Nora asked.
"I think that's the plan."
Harrison had flown from Toronto to Hartford, rented a car, and driven to the Massachusetts Turnpike, which he had followed west. He'd realized, as he'd driven, that he'd never been to western Massachusetts. When he had visited New England before, it had always been to Boston and then straight on to Kidd in Maine. Never inland. He'd known of the Berkshires, of course. Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was world famous. Edith Wharton had summered in Lenox. Melville had written Moby Dick in Pittsfield.
"There are some good walks," Nora said, gesturing toward the windows. "The weather ... the weather is amazing."
"It's been unseasonable in Toronto as well. Very mild."
"Each day has been more beautiful than the last," she said. "I think Nature means to mock us."
Harrison nodded slowly.
"All that horror. All that grief." She paused. "People ... people are stopping one another on the streets and saying, Can you imagine? and Isn't this extraordinary? and Enjoy it while you can."
"They say the temperature is breaking all records."
"I think it will reach seventy-two today," she said.
"Surely a record for the first week in December."
"I wonder ... I wonder if the idea is that the sins of man, more terrible than anyone's ability to imagine them, are nothing in the face of Nature's bounty and serenity," Nora said.
"Nature a supreme being?" Harrison asked, puzzled.
"A terrible one at times."
"No, not today," Harrison said.
"Or ... or are we meant to be reminded of a reason to stay alive? To savor each day as if it might be the last?"
"Nature capable of grace?" Harrison asked. "I like that."
Nora laughed, reached forward, and touched him lightly at the tip of his knee. "Listen to us," she said. "We're so pretentious. We used to do this all the time in Mr. Mitchell's class, didn't we?"
"We did," he said, glad that she remembered, more gladdened by her sudden touch.
"It's great to see you," she said with seemingly genuine pleasure.
"Where were you when it happened?" he asked.
"Here. In the kitchen. I turned on the TV just before the second plane hit. Judy, my assistant-you're bound to meet her-came in and told me. What about you?"
"I was in Toronto," he said. "I was eating breakfast. I had a cup of coffee and the newspaper. On the television, the announcer's voice changed in pitch, and I looked up in time to see a plane hit the second tower."
The images of that day had played and replayed for hours, Canadian television more willing to air the most horrific images-those falling bodies-than American stations had been.
"Were you frightened?" he asked.
"Here? No. Not really. Upset. Very upset. But not frightened. I thought of Carl. I was glad he wasn't alive. To see it."
Nora began to nibble at the skin at the top of her index finger. Abruptly she stopped, putting her hands in her lap with a decisive gesture. From behind the shut door of the library, Harrison could hear a vacuum cleaner.
"They say it's the death of literature," she added.
"I think that's a little extreme," he said, shifting his position on the couch. In the days following the tragedy, he'd been greatly annoyed by such dramatic remarks. "I admired your husband's work very much," he added, feeling remiss that he hadn't mentioned this earlier.
"He ... he was a wonderful man," Nora said. "A wonderful poet and a wonderful man."
"I was the helpmeet," Nora said, surprising Harrison with the archaic word. "I've ... I've never understood what that means exactly. Helpmeet. Help. Meet."
"I'll look it up for you," he offered.
"I could do it myself. I must have a dictionary. Somewhere ..." She gazed at the spines of the books that lined the shelves.
For Harrison, the brilliance of Carl Laski's work lay in its oblique nature, the way the point of a poem was often a glancing blow: a glimpsed headline across the breakfast table while a woman tells her husband she has a lover, or a man berating his wife on a cell phone in an airport lounge as he passes a small child sitting alone with a bright red suitcase. Later it will be the memory of the child with the suitcase that will bring the man to his knees in his hotel room.
Harrison, of course, knew of Laski's reputation. The poet had won numerous international prizes, had been the recipient of honorary degrees, had been-when he'd died-professor emeritus at St. Martin's College, at which he had founded the celebrated St. Martin's Writers School and from which he had sent out into the world a disproportionate share of poets. Laski, Harrison had read, regarded the writing of poetry as man's highest calling and therefore worth the inevitable squandering of happy marriages and good health, to say nothing of sound finances. Largely due to his efforts, poetry had been enjoying something of a renaissance when he'd died, though one so mild as to barely register on the North American consciousness. Not one man in forty could today name a living poet, Harrison thought. Not one in a hundred could say who Carl Laski had been.
Harrison had also read the Roscoff biography, a book that purported to be literary but showed almost no interest in the work itself. Rather, Roscoff had focused on the more lurid aspects of Laski's life: his abusive father, his early drinking problem, his nearly obsessive womanizing while a professor at New York University, his disastrous first marriage, the loss of his sons in a bitter custody battle, and his subsequent self-imposed (and somewhat misanthropic) exile to the backwater college of St. Martin's in western Massachusetts. "Your husband should have won the Nobel Prize," Harrison said.
Nora laughed. "If he were here, he'd agree with you."
"Was it difficult for him, being passed up year after year?"
"It ... it was an event each time it was awarded. I mean that it would register. Like a small seismic shudder. He'd hear the news or read it in the newspaper, or someone would call and tell him, and his face, for just a moment, would cave in. Even as he was ranting about the winner or reading another part of the paper. The only time ... the only time he didn't mind personally was when Seamus Heaney won. He loved Seamus."
Harrison set down his cup. Laski had been thirty years older than Nora. The two had met when Nora was nineteen; Laski, forty-nine. "Was it ever an issue between you-the age difference?" he asked.
"Only that he had to die before me."
Harrison listened for a note of bitterness or grief.
"We always knew it would happen," she added.
"We just didn't know it would be so awful. One night ... one night when it was really bad, Carl said, 'It's so easy.' I thought he meant the pain. That somehow the pain had eased up. But he meant dying. That he'd found an easy way to die."
Laski had filled his bathtub, plugged in the hair dryer, and let it drop. Harrison remembered precisely where he'd been when he learned the startling news. An editor Harrison had once worked with in Toronto had walked by his table in a New York City restaurant, bent down, and murmured, Have you heard about Carl Laski?
"A terrible end to a magnificent life," Harrison said now.
Nora was silent.
"The courage to do that," he added.
"Carl ... Carl would have said 'cowardice.'"
"He had throat cancer?"
"He kept saying that he could never have described the pain. Not even at the height of his powers. That it defied words."
"It's hard for the healthy to imagine pain like that."
"But what was truly horrible, Carl always said, was the knowing. Knowing he was going to die."
Excerpted from A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve Copyright © 2005 by Anita Shreve.
Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Story line was weak
This book took a lot for me to get into it. There was a story within a story, and it was just not a book that impressed me. It was a very ordinary tale, and some of the book really built up and up and up and then ran into a brick wall...not impressed.
This book was very disappointing. It is a rather trite romance about a group of prep school friends who come together for a midlife wedding of two schoolmates. The characters are rather pathetic - except for the out-of-the-closet gay guy. Everyone gets to have sex with their lost loves - and even the divorced groom has his estranged daughter attend the wedding. The best part of the book is the story within a story told by the spinster classmate - who is writing a book about a disaster in Halifax. I wish Shrieve had told that story instead. I find I really did not care for any of these people.
This was my first book by this author.....what a waste! Terrible! I finished the book thinking, What???? My friend tells me to read The Pilot's Wife, so maybe she gets better.
I thought this book was really contrived. I really don't think that anyone in their mid-40's could remember that many details about their high school class, and if they could, I doubt they would be that emotional about them. I have only been out of high school for about a decade now, and there's about a handful of people I still talk to. I have to try to remember details about people that I am in PICTURES with. I had a tiny wedding like the woman in the book and I can guarantee you none of those people from my high school class were invited, so I don't understand why if you were having a tiny wedding, you would bother inviting people you hadn't seen in 25-ish years! I went to college like the people in the book and that is where I met most of my close friends, in addition to my husband. Don't you think these people would have some more recent friends than people they haven't seen in two and a half decades? Getting into all the boring backstory of the boring middle-aged people in this book was pretty ho-hum. I really thought Agnes's short story was the least painful part of the book. Depressing, boring, and disappointing. And cancer. Not this Author's best, try Light on Snow.
A weaving tale of love lost, found, unattainable and intertwined. The devastation of the loss of a classmate changes the course of this close knit group. The rekindling of two high school sweethearts brings the group together and truths of the past and present come to light.
Bridget and Bill were high school sweethearts who rekindle their romance after 25 years. When they meet again, it is under bittersweet circumstances. Bridget has breast cancer and is not expected to live long. Bridget and Bill decide to get married, and seven of their high school friends assemble at a quaint Berkshire inn in Massachusetts to celebrate the wedding.These seven friends had suffered a profound tragedy at the end of high school, and how they each deal with the aftermath of that tragedy forms the basis of A Wedding in December. I loved this book and I thought it had brilliant writing. I give it an A+!
A group of old school friends arrive for a weekend at an inn to celebrate the wedding of two of them. Bill & Bridget were high school sweethearts but originally married other people. Missing from the group is Stephen who was drowned at the end of their high school years. This is a book about love and desire and the choices people make. Enjoyable but not compelling reading.
I was more intrigued by the side story of the Halifax explosion than by the main story of the wedding and reunion.
This book was chosen by my book club organizer for December based on the fact that it was on sale at Walgreens and that it had December in the title. I can't say I hated the book, but I definitely didn't enjoy it much. The book is about a group of people who had been friends in high school getting together for a wedding almost 30 years later. The bride, Bridget and groom, Bill were high school sweethearts but each had married other people when he left her for Jill in college; Bridget and Bill reconnected at their 25 year reunion. The wedding takes place 2 years or so after that reunion- after Bill left Jill for Bridget, who by the way has cancer. So Bridget and Bill decide to invite their old friends that knew them in high school along with a few family members. I don't know, but if I thought I was dying of cancer, I'd invite my good friends and all my family to my wedding- not people I hadn't seen or heard from in almost 3 decades. Almost every character in the book was an adulterer- I got to the point where I was wondering if the author was trying to make it seem like this was the norm. Maybe I just have a hang up about adultery, but I just can't seem to sympathize with characters/people who cheat on their spouses or who have affairs with married people and then try to justify themselves. The part I hated the most was how much the author thrust images of 9-11 at the readers- it's just opportunistic and cheap. If you're going to use 9-11 imagery, make your point and get on with it. There was a line towards the beginning that said something to the effect that mother nature was mocking them with giving them such beautiful weather (3 months) after such a tragedy. It was just bizarre.The characters seemed to martyr themselves to a ridiculous extent: Nora dating the high school bad boy, pretending her marriage was wonderful when her late husband was really a philandering jackass, allowing her husbands mistress to live with them, attempting to adopt her husbands love-child and then hiring the mistress at the B&B after he died... sheesh! And that's just one character.I did enjoy the secondary story that was being written by one of the characters- I wish she had developed that story instead.My advise: Skip it. There are so many better books out there, this one just isn't worth your time unless you absolutely don't want to read anything with any "depth" to it.
This is the second ¿reunion¿ book I¿ve read this year (the other written by a dear family friend and thus specifically not reviewed here, although she is enjoying commercial success in her native Australia) and I love the concept. This time it is a wedding between two high school sweethearts who should have married at 21, and married other people instead. A 25-year-reunion brings them together again and destiny is set straight ¿ and so the high school friends return for the wedding.There is the classic cast for such a novel ¿ the widow, the happily married man with his boys and a hankering for the past, the spinster with a secret, the now enormously successful and happy gay man, the cancer victim and the brash bully with a trophy wife ¿ but Shreve appears to have specifically only spent time inside three or four of the characters¿ heads, not everyone¿s, which is a wise choice; any more background and I would have felt torn around between them.There are of course scandals to be revealed and preconceptions to be unravelled ¿ and a shadow from the past following all the characters around all weekend.Highly recommended.
A group of high school friends, now middle-aged, are gathering at an inn in the Berkshires to celebrate the marriage of two of their group: Bridget and Bill, in love when they were teenagers, since married and divorced, now together again. Anita Shreve adores melodrama: Bridget is seriously ill; Bill's daughter refuses to accept their relationship; all of the high school friends are hiding important. scandalous details about their own lives and the lives they once shared with the others.Scandalous secrets notwithstanding, this was the most tedious piece of nonsense ever. I was yawning by page ten; bored to tears by page one hundred; sighed with relief when the novel ended. I know: why did I finish it? My mother recommended this to me, and her taste is usually flawless; I guess everyone has a lapse in judgment now and then. This is my second foray into Anita Shreve's oeuvre; I'll refrain from a third.
This was my first attempt at an Anita Shreve book, and what struck me most of all was her similarity, in terms of writing style, to Anne Tyler. I haven't always liked Anne Tyler's books and I suspect I will end up feeling the same about Anita Shreve.This wasn't a bad read by any means - awash with Espresso coffee and adultery, it proceeds at a gentle pace, winding its way around a plot that takes place mainly in the past, as a group of old school friends reunite and mull over various events that have shaped their destinies. The personalities of the characters were impressively drawn and there are some moments of drama, though nothing earth-shattering. I liked the revalation of the character Julie's job - go girl!!I thought the references to 9/11 were interesting. I suspect the novel would have worked without them, and almost had the impression the disaster had occurred whilst Shreve was writing the book, and she edited the references in so as to place the story more credibly within the current decade.Things that irritated me included Nora's stuttering speech - OK so that's the way she talks, but it got on my nerves from page one. Also, the story-within-a-story about the Halifax blast started off horribly slowly, and I found myself groaning inwardly every time Innes Finch pitched up again for another interminable mealtime. It probably does me no credit as a reader that I enjoyed it a lot more once it got to the halfway point and all the blood and gore.
A short, quick novel that's very nicely packaged. Nothing remarkable, but a good read on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
I found this book difficult to be drawn into. It's about a sort of high school reunion. Two high school sweethearts reunite, and one leaves their spouse to be with the other. People who havn't seen each other in decades are once again placed together. Lots of stories of regret and hope are told. But I found it hard to find anything to draw me in or to relate to any of the characters.
Nicely written, but I didn't like any of these people. I had very little sympathy for them.
For the first two thirds of this book, I wasn't sure why I wanted to keep reading it. Instead of plot, it relies mainly on atmosphere, setting, and some cliche character elements. Still, the last third of the book redeemed itself. Perhaps I was just really looking forward to the wedding, and I wasn't going to be happy until "The Big Day". If you like reading about weddings, this one has it's failings, but if you love a moody tale of intertwining lives, this book should be on your list.
My least favorite of those I've read by her. Too many choices that ultimately led to adultry for almost every character.
One of the most boring, poorly written books ever.