A San Francisco Chronicle and Daily Candy Best Book of the Year
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction
Winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize
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, salt air and practiced bonhomie, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust stir beneath the surface.
Winn Van Meter, father of the bride, is not having a good time. Barred from the exclusive social club he’s been eyeing since birth, he’s also tormented by an inappropriate crush on Daphne’s beguiling bridesmaid, Agatha, and 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.
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012: Family reunions are ripe for farce and surreal events—especially when you add a wedding to the mix. Seating Arrangements takes place over the course of a three-day weekend that culminates with the wedding of the eldest Van Meter daughter, Daphne; a wedding hastened by Daphne’s unexpected pregnancy. Add in the grudges, longings, and lusts of the rather peculiar Van Meter family, which isn’t entirely secure with its old-money status, and you have a weekend teetering on the brink of familial implosion. The relationships between characters are handled deftly, and each misstep the characters make feels as inevitable as it does realistic. The end result is clear: this is an author to watch out for. --Malissa Kent
Write What You Wonder About – An Exclusive Essay, by Maggie Shipstead
“Write what you know” is easily the most frequently quoted piece of writing advice. When I’m asked to describe my book (which, for the record, I’m extremely bad at), I usually mumble something about a dysfunctional WASPy family having a wedding on an island, and people either nod sagely and affirm, “Write what you know,” or ask, puzzled, “I thought you were supposed to write what you know?”
It’s an odd window on what other people think I know, and, to be honest, I don’t always know what I know. I’ve spent seventy percent of my life in California, including years zero to eighteen when I lived in beachy, suburban SoCal and was utterly oblivious to the existence of New England prep schools and social clubs.
Twenty percent of my life has happened in Massachusetts, including eight months on Nantucket, where I wrote the first draft of Seating Arrangements. (Let it be said that I do know about Atlantic resort islands, especially, and unhelpfully to my book, in the winter.) Miscellaneous, irrelevant locations get the last ten percent.
Depending on how literally someone interprets the commandment to write what you know, here are some questions that come up: as a Californian, how much can I really know about upper crust New England families like Van Meters? I’m not married, so how much can I really know about weddings? I’m not a sixty-year-old man, so is it wise to write from the point of view of one?
But I have an easy out. It’s that I don’t happen to be a believer in writing what you know. The idea of a world where people only write what they know sounds flat, grim, and unimaginative to me. I don’t believe in writing in ignorance, either.
Instead, I try to write what I wonder about. When I lived in the East, I wondered about the people I met who knew how to dress for garden parties when they were still in their teens, who had vast webs of generationally intertwined family friends, whose style of dress was crisp and culturally regimented and was in no way inspired by surfers or skaters or movie stars grocery shopping in velour sweatsuits. I wondered what it would have been like to go to boarding school, to use “summer” as a verb, to know how to sail.
For a while, I thought maybe these people could be categorized and diagrammed as neatly and pleasingly as in The Official Preppy Handbook. Then I met my friend Bailey’s grandmother, a formidable grand dame who was one of Jacqueline Kennedy’s bridesmaids. At first glance, she seems like the distilled essence of High WASP. She has a gift for fun of the drinking-and-dancing variety, a plummy voice, memberships in clubs of the long-established and selective variety, a house on the North Shore of Massachusetts full of ancestral oil paintings and classic wallpaper patterns, and a house in Maine full of hardback thrillers and ingredients for Bloody Marys. But what I loved about this particular woman was her surprisingly fantastic closet, which resembled what might have happened if the wardrobes from Dynasty and The Love Boat had been shut inside the Copacabana to breed in isolation for several decades. Behind the classic wallpaper, she kept a pirate’s horde of sequins, jewel-tone silks, shoulder pads, towering heels, heaps of bedazzled dresses and sweaters, and one very special zebra-print jumpsuit with matching belt.
In the end, I set about writing a character, Winn Van Meter, who doesn’t wonder much about anything and so misses out on a lot. I know him, even though he doesn’t exist. He spends his life in pursuit of correctness and an illusory social status, but there are a few zebra-print jumpsuits, metaphorically speaking, lurking behind his staid exterior. We all have our secret sequins.
Guest Reviewer: J. Courtney Sullivan
J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of the New York Times best-selling novels Commencement and Maine. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Tribune, New York, Elle, Glamour, Allure, and Men’s Vogue, among others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Seating Arrangements is bursting with perfectly observed characters and unforgettable scenes. This gorgeous, wise, funny, sprawling novel about family, fidelity, and social class is the best book I’ve read in ages.
Beautifully set on an exclusive island off the coast of Cape Cod, Shipstead’s debut sparkles with all the enticements of summer: you can practically smell the sea salt and see the ferries coming into harbor overflowing with weekend guests and their brimming bags of sunscreen and champagne. With an irresistible mix of wit and tenderness, the novel tells the story of what happens when the illustrious Van Meter family—Winn, the obtuse and perennially optimistic patriarch; his wife Biddie, and their beautiful daughters Livia (recently jilted by the son of Winn’s oldest rival) and Daphne (the bride, seven months pregnant)--plan a wedding at their beloved island retreat. Shipstead captures a family on the brink of implosion, brilliantly contrasting the novel’s placid setting with the hilarity and chaos that ensue when Winn embarks on a dangerous game of seduction with his daughter’s most lissome bridesmaid.
Maggie Shipstead is a born novelist, and Seating Arrangements is both wickedly smart and impossible to put down, a true summer pleasure.About the Author:
Maggie Shipstead was born in 1983 and grew up in Orange County, California. Her short fiction has appeared in Tin House, VQR, Glimmer Train, The Best American Short Stories, and other publications. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University.
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Book Description Vintage, 2013. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: "Maggie Shipstead is an outrageously gifted writer, and her assured first novel, Seating Arrangements , is by turns hilarious and deeply moving." -Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic " Seating Arrangements is bursting with perfectly observed characters and unforgettable scenes. This gorgeous, wise, funny, sprawling novel about family, fidelity, and social class, is the best book I've read in ages." -Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine "A pitch-perfect debut from a master storyteller, Seating Arrangements is a rich and deep work: a smart, consuming novel that manages also to be delightfully funny. A romp of a book, with whales and weddings and wealth, it is, at its heart, a warning against the empty seductions of status and exclusivity." -Justin Torres, author of We the Animals "Smart and frothyBeneath the surface of this summery romp lie animosities, well-paced sexual suspense and a clash between appearances and authenticitywaltzlike." - New York Times Book Review "A sophisticated summer romp.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." - Washington Post "Whipsmart and engaging.the best kind of smart beach read." - O Magazine "Dead-on delightfula champagne-fueled, saltwater-scented comedy of upper-crust New England manners and mores." - National Geographic Traveler "Irresistible [and] joyously good." - Daily Mail (UK) "Elegant, delightfulShipstead's sentences simmer and crackle on the page." - San Francisco Chronicle "This is one of those rare debut novels that neither forsakes plot for language nor language for plot. It is gratifying on every scaleThe novel is teeming with the sort of casual philosophizing that encourages passage-underlining and earnest recommendation." - The Boston Globe "Funny and dark and poignant-sometimes all at once. Shisptead is a gifted storyteller whose richly realized characters and sweetly flowing prose coalesce into a tale that is by parts sweet and sharp, humorous and heartbreaking. It's an auspicious debut by an undeniably talented writer." - The Maine Edge "Zestful yet acerbicfor all its madcap quirkiness, Shipstead's adroit escapade artfully delivers a poignant reflection on the enduring if frustrating nature of love, hope, and family." - Booklist "Vibrant prose and moments of keen insight." - Publishers Weekly "By turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny (thanks to Shipstead's gimlet eye and terrific comic timing), Seating Arrangements is a tremendous debut." - Everydayebook "A wedding held at a family retreat off the New England coast explodes into a weekend of deliciously scandalous behavior." - Parade 2012 Summer Reading Guide "Told from the wry perspective of the father of the (very pregnant) bride, this spicy debut tracks the goings-on at a Cape Cod wedding where endless drama unfolds." - Real Simple , Addictive Summer Novels. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0307743950
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Book Description Vintage Books, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 196 x 130 mm. Language: English Brand New Book. A San Francisco Chronicle and Daily Candy Best Book of the Year Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction Winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize 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, salt air and practiced bonhomie, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust stir beneath the surface. Winn Van Meter, father of the bride, is not having a good time. Barred from the exclusive social club he s been eyeing since birth, he s also tormented by an inappropriate crush on Daphne s beguiling bridesmaid, Agatha, and 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. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780307743954
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