12 July 2019

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Grinder

A co-worker gave me this book a few months ago and I recently wanted a bit of a 'break' from some of the heavier stuff I've been reading, per se. I thought this would be light and silly and in the time leading up to my own wedding it seemed like good content. This book really surprised me with its depth. It was still light and silly at times but it had all of these deep family conflicts and a bitterness to the whole thing that I loved so much. I also feel like it Grant Grinder manager to write about a wedding without falling into any 'wedding fiction' cliches or formulas. I've since put all of Grinder's other books on my reading list.

The plot of this book follows a family made up of a mother, Donna, and her three adult children Paul, Alice and Eloise. Eloise is the daughter of Donna's first marriage to a very wealthy French man, and the story centers around her upcoming wedding in England. Alice and Paul are children from Donna's second marriage to a more middle-class, American man. Grinder makes it clear there's always been some animosity between the children in that Eloise was always spoiled with lavish vacations and gifts. They called her their "holiday sister" because they really only saw her on holidays as she didn't live with their family in the states. After some debate about who was actually going to make the trip, Donna, Alice and Paul all head to England for Eloise's wedding and the book covers the drama that ensues.

There is a lot of family bitterness in this story, which conveniently I love to read about. As mentioned, Paul and Alice despise Eloise for having a superior childhood, and Donna despises Eloise's dad for leaving her for a young nanny and demoting her from a first class Parisienne to an American housewife.

There's also animosity between Paul and Donna, as when Paul and Alice's dad passed away Donna essentially erased him from their household. Paul felt his mother was disrespectful in doing so, but what he didn't know is that Paul's father despised Paul ever since Paul came out as gay. Donna forced her husband to be amicable for her son's sake, but hated him ever since. This is revealed later in the book during one of many outbursts between the siblings, and Paul is very remorseful for not speaking to his mother all those years, when she was only trying to protect him.

Finally, there is also an awkward undertone between Alice and Eloise. Alice had a late term miscarriage years before the story begins and we find out Eloise 'wasn't there for Alice', whatever that means, putting a wedge in the family.

[Eloise] speaks of [Alice and Paul]- she's always spoken of them- with the same mash-up of conflicting claims: they are the only people who understand her, and the people who understand her the least; she needs to speak with them immediately, and she'd be lucky to never speak with them again; she craves their affirmation- more than anything in the world- but once she gets it, she doesn't know what to do with it."

All of these layers are revealed slowly over the course of the book, and all of the bitterness builds up to some really epic outbursts that I could only dream of having one day. At one point in the book Eloise tells her siblings how she was always jealous of the Warners, another family they knew, because they always seemed so close and always posted such great family content on social media. Paul tells Eloise the Warners have their own shit, that every family does, and I felt this was such a good message to remind myself of. We see the versions of people on social media that those people want us to see. Everyone, and every family, has their own shit. It also goes to show that even rich, spoiled, seemingly happy people like Eloise can be jealous of other people. Everyone has something someone else wants, no matter who you are.

Alice's sub-plot was particularly interesting to me. While readers don't get to learn as much as I would have liked about her miscarriage, in the present she is dating a married man who owns the high profile tech company where she works. It seems like she's playing it pretty cool and happy with their casual arrangement until shit hits the fan at the wedding in England and Alice tries to lean on her him for support. He makes it incredibly clear that all the sweet nothings they'd shared for years were essentially meaningless, and that he doesn't want to be there for her in any real way. At one point Alice gets a dreaded all-caps text "I SAID STOP CALLING ME" that made me actually want to melt into my seat. We've all got a text like that at some point ammirite ladies?

Heartache, he's come to realize, the devastation of being chewed up and spit out, is an individual and isolating experience. Why else would there be a million different idioms in just as many languages that tried, always unsuccessfully, to describe it? If there were some common, shared experience, language would have already accounted for that. It would have streamlined the feeling into something concise and translatable, like water, or food, or air."

Alice also has a pill addiction. Pill addictions have really been following me around lately. It started with Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Series and caught me off-guard again recently while watching a movie called Ben is Back. I am both absolutely terrified and wildly interested in pills. It seems too good and far too easy, and while I don't have an addictive personality, reading about the highs of prescription pills is enough for me to know that that would be my vice.

She tries to remember what she ordered from room service but she's having a hard time thinking of it. Typically this is her favourite part of getting high, the moment where her short-term memory, the events of the past hour, seem to blur into an unrecognizable nothingness somewhere along the horizon of her mind. The Forgetting, is what she calls it."

*Immediately searches a list of the best pill-addiction books and adds them all to my wish list.*

the only picture of Grant Grinder (who is apparently hot) I could find online

I also really liked Paul's sub-plot, which I found especially relatable despite him being a gay male. Paul follows a boyfriend from NYC to Philadelphia and is clearly unhappy. The boyfriend, Mark, clearly prioritizes his adult, carefree lifestyle over his relationship with Paul. We've all been in Paul's shoes. The worst point is when you start to realize it. It's one thing for everyone else to know you're dating a loser, but the hard part is when you know it too and have to play this weird denial game while you wait to catch up emotionally and finally leave the person. It's an exhausting performance, I should know.

On the other hand, for the first time he finds himself suddenly curious about his sister's opinion. How, exactly, is Mark a phony? In which categories of class and culture does she find him lacking? What specific breed of awfulness does she attribute to him? Because if he's being totally honest, he suspects that whatever she thinks of Mark, whatever her judgement of him may be, he might, for the first time, actually sort of agree with her. He is kind of awful- and not just momentarily, but generally, perpetually.... But oh, God: Here he is, thinking himself into a standstill all over again."

Bringing Mark to England for the wedding is all it takes for Paul to fall into the self-doubt spiral. Seeing his own family interact with Mark, and also watching Mark flirt with an academic colleague the entire week, sets Paul over the edge. They have this incredibly hilarious threesome scene (Paul, Mark, and Mark's colleague) and I loved the below train of thought from Paul, which feels as close to the awkwardness of a threesome as I could ever imagine:

He lets him peel off Alcott's jeans and kiss the inside of his thighs and wiggle a few fingers beneath the elastic band of his underwear. Unsure of what he should be doing during all of this- moaning, even though he's not the one being touched? Providing Mark with some canned suggestions, some encouragement? Neither strikes him as the right option."

I could really go on and on because there were so many solid insights into so many different types of relationships in this book. There are great bits about siblings, and how different things were for Eloise versus Paul and Alice, and how it affected their relationships. There's this chilling passage from Donna after Paul and Alice's dad died, commenting on how it feels to be widowed and parentless, and how the thoughts around this evolve so quickly and take on so many different forms:

[Donna] thinks of her children. She wants to drill inside their heads, to split them open and excavate their thoughts. She wants to know what they are feeling, and what forms those feelings take. Are they enduring the same bowel-loosening cocktail of heartbreak, memory, grief, and above all, regret? Do they, too, feel daunted by the years of obscure and shapeless loneliness that now lie before them? And amid all that, do they find themselves clinging to the unexpected and sickening bits of pleasure that come from having a dead father? All that wonderful sympathy and attention?

But ultimately, this book is a family-based love story. Everyone is rooting for love and happiness, despite how fucked-up the family is. I was so inspired by it and it was the perfect book to read before my own wedding (although I maybe have the least fucked-up family a girl could ask for). People who like chick-lit would like this, but I'd even recommend it to someone like Meghan, who prefers to be more intellectually challenged in her reading choices. It was a very welcome surprise to enjoy this so much and to find so much depth in it.

1 comment:

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