Midnight Champagne

( 8 )

Overview

April Liesgang and Caleb Shannon have known each other for just three short months, so their Valentine's Day wedding at a chapel near the shores of Lake Michigan has both families in an uproar. As the festivities unfold (and the cash bar opens), everyone has an opinion and a lively prediction about April and Caleb's union, each the reflection of a different marital experience.

Meanwhile, at the nearby Hideaway Lodge, a domestic quarrel ends in tragedy. As April and Caleb's life ...

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Midnight Champagne

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Overview

April Liesgang and Caleb Shannon have known each other for just three short months, so their Valentine's Day wedding at a chapel near the shores of Lake Michigan has both families in an uproar. As the festivities unfold (and the cash bar opens), everyone has an opinion and a lively prediction about April and Caleb's union, each the reflection of a different marital experience.

Meanwhile, at the nearby Hideaway Lodge, a domestic quarrel ends in tragedy. As April and Caleb's life together begins, death parts another man and woman in angry violence—and as the two stories gradually intersect, their juxtaposition explores the tangled roots of vulnerability and desire.

By the time the last polka has been danced and the bouquet tossed, Midnight Champagne has cast an extraordinary spell. From the novel's opening epigraph from Chekhov—"If you fear loneliness, then marriage is not for you"—to its final moments in the honeymoon suite, A. Manette Ansay weaves tenderness and fury, passion and wonder into a startling tapestry of love in all its paradox and power.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
This is an effervescent book that bubbles with multiple characters with varying perspectives, all memorable in their own ways. Working in nice counterpoint are the shadow lives below the surfaces revealing mirror reflections of secret hopes and broken dreams. Ultimately the book is a champagne toast to the enduring rituals of the heart. Told with savviness and a knowledge of human vagaries, this novel calls to mind the fluid movement in the best Altman films, in which scenes and characters overlap, and subplots are never subordinated to a dominant narrative.
Laura Jamison
What is it about a wedding that inspires such bad behavior among those who attend it? The nuptial celebration at the center of Midnight Champagne, a funny, touching novel...[is] a loud, rude comment on their own thwarted romantic lives....The lady in red isn't the only one at this wedding who has soured on a relationship, but that doesn't stop the revelers from risking disappointment, loss of self-respect and...a shot at lasting, magical love.
The New York Times Book Review \
New York Times Book Review
Ansay, whose previous novels include the equally moving but much more somber Sister and Vinegar Hill, weaves in and out of the sundry dramas with grace, warmth and a good deal of humor, striking a fine balance between comedy and compassion.
San Francisco Chronicle
Spellbinding...Ansay joins the ranks of our best storytellers.
New Yorker
An entertaining tale about love and compromise.
Book Report
Midnight Champagne is a wise, wry novel that strikes a perfect balance between comedy and compassion. It literally bubbles over with interesting characters whose varying perspectives are certain to give you a new outlook on weddings and marriages -- in fact, it may be the best wedding you attend this year!
Library Journal
In her newest work, Ansay River Angel, LJ 12/97 puts us in the middle of a Valentine's Day wedding party at a kitschy wedding chapel and theme motel in rural Wisconsin. Once rumored to be a brothel, the motel has undergone an overzealous redecorating that hasn't improved its reputation. Outside a blizzard is raging, trapping even the bride's local relatives and creating a bonanza at the cash bar. Meanwhile, a domestic quarrel in a motel room goes awry, and a nervous stranger crashes the wedding supper. When some of the younger wedding guests investigate the motel, they find out more than they bargained for. Ansay flirts dangerously with sitcom-like stereotypes--the bride's deadpan mother, her perfect mother-in-law, her rotten little sister, even a couple of ghosts--but except for the polka band she keeps them from going over the top. By deftly maneuvering inside the heads of her characters, she succinctly informs us of family history. The combination of dry Midwestern wit with a light touch of the Gothic makes for hilarious reading. Recommended for popular fiction collections.--Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Laura Jamison
What is it about a wedding that inspires such bad behavior among those who attend it? The nuptial celebration at the center of Midnight Champagne, a funny, touching novel...[is] a loud, rude comment on their own thwarted romantic lives....The lady in red isn't the only one at this wedding who has soured on a relationship, but that doesn't stop the revelers from risking disappointment, loss of self-respect and...a shot at lasting, magical love.
The New York Times Book Review
Lauren Neefe
[T]houghtful and thought provoking, full of real people and sincere feeling, truthful humor and humorous truth. Its success is subtle—which counts for a lot in this otherwise over-the-top world...
Time Out NY
Kirkus Reviews
Ansay's fourth novel (after River Angel, 1998, etc.) brings her gently mystical angle of vision to an appropriate, satisfying level in a tightly plotted, modestly scaled story of one couple's wedding ceremony. With an intriguingly inflected realism, the tale of April Liesgang and Caleb Shannon's Valentine's-night marriage is collected from the multiple perspectives of relatives and friends. As a Lake Michigan snowstorm rages outside, April and Caleb marry three months after their first meeting—at the Hideaway Lodge, a brothel turned nondenominational–event-hall. Elmer, April's father, is beside himself with the vanished hope of a proper, Catholic wedding, and whatever happened to Barney, April's longtime boyfriend, the one everybody liked so much? But Elmer's disappointments are broader than these: he's bound in a long-term, long-sexless marriage, and his wife, Mary Fran, is likely to leave him soon. Mary Fran, none too content, has failed to endear herself to Hilda, Elmer's mother, by bearing children, and her teenage son, Stanley, is proving nothing but trouble during the lengthy ceremony. A handful of other relatives, with their own histories of betrayal, divorce, alcoholism, and shame, are connected to the couple and serve as guides to the fortunes of love in the Liesgang family tree. All is fairly routine until the guests in the lodge's Room 33 appear, a starkly defined, darkly ominous couple unrelated to the wedding party. After the husband murders his wife, he and her ghost show up at the wedding. Both play crucial roles in the intricate plot, which retains its well-defined structure and narrative coherence despite the many populating the tale. Although Ansay'searlier metaphysical projections have fallen flat, here her canvas is as intimate and as ambiguous as family lore itself, and her characters clearly envisioned. Elements such as these counteract any readerly disbelief in ghosts while grounding the story in a bittersweet and unsentimental understanding of love.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380729753
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 848,077
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

A. Manette Ansay

A. Manette Ansay is the author of eight books, including Vinegar Hill, Midnight Champagne (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Blue Water. She has received the Pushcart Prize, two Great Lakes Book Awards, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA writing program at the University of Miami.

Biography

A. Manette Ansay's first novel, Vinegar Hill, established the writer as a novelist who could tell a difficult story with great grace. Born in Michigan in 1964 and raised in Port Washington, Wisconsin among a huge Roman Catholic extended family, Ansay infuses her fiction with the reality of Midwestern farm life, the constraints of Roman Catholicism, and the toll the combination can take on women and men alike.

Philosophical and cerebral, with a gift for identifying the telling domestic detail and conveying it in a fresh way, Ansay incorporates the rhythm of rural Midwestern life -- the polka dance at a wedding reception, the bowling alley, community suppers, gossip, passion, and betrayal -- into novels that illuminate the most difficult aspects of maintaining any close relationship, whether it be familial or not. In Vinegar Hill, Ansay examines the forces that hold a Catholic woman in the 1970s hostage to her emotionally abusive marriage. In Midnight Champagne, set at a wedding, she focuses her lens on the institution of marriage itself; the story is told through the shifting points of view of the couples who attend the event.

Readers and critics alike have testified to her talents: The New Yorker said of Vinegar Hill, "This world is lit by the measured beauty of her prose, and the final line is worth the pain it takes to get there." The novel was selected for Oprah's Book Club in 1999; Ansay's following book, Midnight Champagne, was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

Like Flannery O'Connor, whom Ansay cites as an influence, Ansay is concerned with moments of grace in which the truth suddenly manifests itself with life-changing intensity. In the wrong hands, her material could be the stuff of soap operas. But Ansay strives for emotional complexity rather than mere bathos, and addresses both suffering and joy with intelligence and sensitivity.

Ansay's life has been as complex and fascinating as the dramas that unfold in her novels. A gifted pianist as a child, she studied at the University of Wisconsin while still a high school student. Later, while a student at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, she was afflicted by a disease that devastated her neurological system, cutting short her dreams of becoming a concert pianist, and leaving her confined for years to a wheelchair. She had never written fiction before, but turned her disciplined ear and mind to writing, promising herself to write two hours a day, three days a week, the same sort of disciplined schedule she had imposed on herself as a student musician.

Limbo, Ansay's story of her struggle with illness, is as evocatively written as her novels. Ansay never descends into sentimentality, but instead confronts her medical problems – and the limitations they impose – unflinchingly, describing both the indignities that disabled people face daily, as well as how her own illness has become a personal test of faith.

Good To Know

Ansay was still looking for the appropriate title for her first novel when, on the way to a meeting with her MFA advisor near Cornell University, Ansay spotted a street sign with the answer. "I happened to glance up and see a street sign that said "Vinegar Hill." It was perfect," Ansay writes on her web site. "I had never turned onto that street before, and I made a point never to do so afterwards. I wanted it to belong solely to my characters. And it does."

One scene in Midnight Champagne, the air-hockey table encounter, was written for a friend of Ansay's. She writes, "A friend of mine had been musing about sex and literature, and she said, 'Why is it that we so seldom read about the kind of sex we want to be having?' I said, 'What kind of sex is that?' She said, 'Fun sex.' I said, 'I'm writing a scene just for you."'

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    1. Hometown:
      Port Washington, Wisconsin; now lives in New York City
    1. Date of Birth:
      1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lapeer, Michigan
    1. Education:
      MFA, Cornell University, 1991

Read an Excerpt

Valentine's Day. Mid-afternoon. A crossroads thirty miles north of the Illinois state line, each highway straight as a stickpin holding fast a tidy seam. Who can't describe the American heartland, those glorious patchwork quilts of corn and wheat? But this is deep winter, the sun pale as ice. The winter fields are the featureless white of amnesia, of terror or forgiveness. Fence posts and wind breaks divide them like the clear, clean lines of desire. And right smack in the middle of it all, unexpected as a gold tooth in a child's ivory smile, sits the Great Lakes Chapel and Hideaway Lodge, mired in a pool of ploughed asphalt.

At a glance, the Chapel doesn't look so bad: big-shouldered old house with twin dormers overlooking the parking lot, redbrick chimney, lace curtains thick as cobwebs in the windows. After checking in at the lobby, guests zig and zag along an asphalt path until they reach the Hideaway Lodge, a long, low structure housing thirty-six suites--some with peekaboo views of Lake Michigan--divided by a shotgun hall. All are decorated according to theme: Caribbean Holiday, Night in Tunisia, Mountain Vista, Paradise. But locals still remember the Chapel and Lodge as the notorious dance hall and roadhouse it once was, operating without censure until 1959 when its proprietress, a woman named Gretel Fame, was murdered by a jealous lover. People who spend the night here are usually from Milwaukee and Chicago: tourists looking for a little local flavor, adulterers with pre-rehearsed alibis, couples lugging the weight of their marriages between them like so many stickered steamer trunks. Couples who get married here are generally those (so the saying goes) too young to know orold enough to know better: the brides' beauty spelled out in eyeliner and whipped-topping hair; the grooms sporting ruddy, alcoholic noses and flashing too much cash.

What else about this crossroads catches the eye? Not much. A stretch of struggling businesses known as Bittner's Plaza. A few houses, no more than a dozen, spaced as neatly as buttons. A billboard advertising the Great Lakes Chapel and Hideaway Lodge's Fabulous Hot Tub Suites: a handsome man and woman smile in a lazy, self-satisfied way, the woman's breasts caressed by a succulent burst of steam. Every few years, crossroads residents join forces with various church groups, perhaps an aspiring politician or two, and present Ralph Bamberger -- owner of the Chapel -- with a petition regarding that billboard. Bamberger files these and other petitions in the circular file. Opposition is the nature of business; he doesn't let it bother him too much. A man can't expect that everybody will throw flowers at his feet all the time. What yanks his bobber is how often bullet holes have scarred the billboard couple's complexions like a mysterious rash. Each time, he pays good money to have everything repaired. What else can he do? Bullet holes don't make the right impression on potential clients. Bullet holes don't fit with the storybook wedding Bamberger helps them imagine when they all sit down together in his posh planning parlor off the lobby: the bride- and groom-to-be, sometimes their parents, more likely their grown children, and all of their wallets fat as plums. His daughter and partner, Emily, takes notes as Bamberger explains the options. Marriage is a challenge, that's a fact, he'll say. So you might as well start things off on the right foot.

Don't I know it, the groom-to-be might say. My first wife, she never forgave me that quick trip to the courthouse. Never mind we went to Hawaii afterward...

I've been around the block a time or two, the bride might say, but now that I'm getting married, I'm turning over this new leaf, see?

I want to invite every one of my friends who said this would never work out...

I want to invite my ex, let him see what he's missing, the old...Bamberger has heard it all before, and it means pretty much the same thing. They are young and afraid; they are not so young and afraid. They've screwed up in the past, but damn it, they still have hope. And they'll pay whatever it might cost to place that hope, like the precious stone it is, in an appropriate 24k setting. So Bamberger shows them through the lobby and into the ballroom, where guests will first observe the ceremony and, later, dance to celebrate it. The ballroom is an airy restoration: Gothic windows, a stage for the house band, everything outlined in strings of crisp, white lights. Golden cherubs, the size of human infants, hang suspended around a massive chandelier. At the front of the room, an exposed stairway leads to a balcony; this is the spot where, during the dance hall's glory days, men stood to choose one of the ladies dancing on the floor below. The hallway behind him led to small rooms available by the quarter-hour. Now these same rooms are elegant dressing rooms: His to the left, Hers to the right. Rose-scented hand lotion in the dispensers. Padded toilet seats and potpourri. Full-length mirrors and plush red rugs, even a small TV.

And a secret -- a narrow service elevator built into an expanded dumbwaiter shaft. Once, the shaft had been concealed, used only during police raids, when Gretel Fame and her employees lowered themselves into the basement, one by one, and escaped through the root cellar door. Now the basement is a game room. Just before the ceremony, the bride takes the elevator down from her dressing room, weaves her way between the pool tables and pinball machines, then climbs the public stairwell that returns her to the lobby. When the "Wedding March'' begins to play, she enters at the back of the ballroom, surprising unsuspecting guests whose eyes are fixed on the balcony.

Is everybody happy so far? Does everybody like what they see? Then it's on to the dining room just beyond the ballroom, accessed through arched doorways, one on either side of the balcony stairway. Walk to the left or the right -- take your pick! For here is yet another surprise: the original mahogany bar, its marble top intact. The groom imagines his aging buddies coveting the bride from the tall bar stools. The bride envisions the long tables filled with members of her family, and everyone getting along so beautifully: Mother speaking charitably with Father's new wife; Sister downplaying her own successful marriage; Brother, for once, laying off the politics. And no one making jokes about deja vu, comparing this wedding to the last, now he was a dud, they all saw that one coming and if only she had listened --

Now, now. There will be none of that. For the room is softly lit, like a church. The windows look out upon a quiet patio and the shaggy windbreak of pines. Through the trees, the bride and groom can see the little path leading toward the Lodge, where they'll spend the first night of their married lives in a king-sized, heart-shaped bed. There will be champagne in a small refrigerator, chocolates and hothouse strawberries in a basket, thick red terry-cloth robes. Yes, this is the place, this is exactly what they've been looking for, the bride and groom are fully prepared to make a deposit right away!

Only let them snap a few more pictures. Let them ask Emily yet another question about the cake. Poor girl -- she's clearly on the wrong side of thirty, and still no prospects. What a shame. The bride and groom clasp hands gratefully. It's a terrible thing, to be alone. They stand one last time beneath the balcony, see themselves mounting those winding stairs before most of the people they love and more than a few they don't. Before full-blown ghosts of past disasters and new ghosts clamoring to be born. Before the ancient flourishing grief between women and men. Still, they will promise, without hesitation, to love and honor and cherish in richness and poverty, sickness and health, speaking in time with the rhythm of their hearts: I do, I do, I do.

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
April Liesgang and Caleb Shannon have known each other for three short months, so their Valentine's Day wedding at a chapel near the shores of Lake Michigan has both families in an uproar. As the festivities unfold (and the cash bar opens), everyone has an opinion and a lively prediction about April and Caleb's union, each the reflection of a different marital experience.

Meanwhile, at the nearby Hideaway Lodge, a domestic quarrel ends in tragedy. As April and Caleb's life together begins, death parts another man and woman in angry violence -and as the two stories gradually intersect, their juxtaposition explores the tangled roots of vulnerability and desire. By the time the last polka has been danced and the bouquet tossed, Midnight Champagne has cast an extraordinary spell. From its opening epigraph from Chekhov - "If you fear loneliness, then marriage is not for you" - to its final moments in the honeymoon suite, A. Manette Ansay weaves tenderness and fury, passion and wonder into a startling tapestry of love in all its paradox and power.


"a champagne toast to the enduring rituals of the heart. . . I think it is rare for a contemporary novelist to write on the subject of love without substituting hollowness and witty cynicism for larger complexities, and whose tender pokes at the traditions and rituals associated with marital bliss implicate the reader right along with the characters. It's also refreshing to have characters who talk in the idiom of real people, and not like actors trading snappy TV sitcom witticisms. What could have been plot soup in the hands of a lesser writer is transformed into a lovely evocation of one of thegreatest human mysteries: romantic love and the desire to connect in what many would argue is an outdated institution. Ansay shows with fluid and graceful prose the uncharted paths of ordinary flawed human hearts enacting an age-old ritual."
--Alyce Miller,
The Chicago Tribune

Topics for Discussion

  1. A. Manette Ansay begins her story with a quote from Chekhov: "If you fear loneliness, then marriage is not for you." Why has she chosen this particular epigraph? Identify moments in the novel in which you hear echoes of this quote.
  2. Midnight Champagne is organized around chapter headings that identify key moments in a traditional wedding celebration: Ceremony, Reception, etc. Discuss the ways in which these divisions function in terms of both plot and theme.
  3. The narrator moves from one point of view to another. How would Midnight Champagne be different if Ansay had written it in first person rather than in third person omniscient? Through which character's point of view did you feel most connected with the events? Though the novel istold from multiple perspectives, do you feel that the story "belongs" to one character or set of characters more than another?
  4. The opening chapter of Midnight Champagne establishes what appear to be two unrelated stories: the story of April and Caleb's wedding, and the story of an anonymous married couple at the Hideaway Lodge. At what point do these two stories begin to intersect? Why does Ansay include them together in a single novel?
  5. The subject of Midnight Champagne is a wedding, yet, ironically, Ansay lets the actual exchange of rings occur off-stage. Why do you think she makes this choice? Where are other places where, at key moments, she shifts to a parallel scene?
  6. The ghost of the red-dressed Gretel Fame haunts the Hideaway Lodge. What is her role in this story? What other kinds of hauntings occur throughout the book?
  7. Hilda Liesgang's penny is only one in a series of recurring images. Can you identify others? Have any taken on new meaning (s) by the end of the novel?
  8. Discuss the parallels between Barney and the man from suite thirty-three; April and the woman from suite thirty-three; Mary Fran and Hilda. What is the effect of these mirrored stories on the book as a whole?
  9. Why do you think April withholds the details of her relationship with Barney, not just from her family, but from Caleb as well? What is the effect of her revelation on Caleb? On their relationship?
  10. Why do you think Ansay chose to include several children's points of view? How will Stanley and Lacey look back on this night?
  11. Ansay begins the novel by writing, "The fields are the featureless white of amnesia. Fenceposts and windbreaks divide them like the clean lines of desire." What role does the blizzard play in Midnight Champagne? How does the Midwestern landscape reflect the internal landscape of these characters' hearts and minds?
  12. The Chicago Tribune, in a review of Midnight Champagne, describes it as 'a lovely evocation of one of the greatest human mysteries: romantic love and the desire to connect in what many would argue is an outdated institution.' Do you think Midnight Champagne makes this argument? What, in your opinion, is the novel really about?

    About the Author: A. Manette Ansay was born in Lapeer, Michigan in 1964, and grew up in Port Washington, Wisconsin among sixty-seven cousins and over a hundred second cousins. She started writing as a New Year's resolution on January 1st, 1988 after developing a muscle disorder which made it necessary for her to find a career she could manage sitting down. Her first novel, Vinegar Hill, was published in 1994, followed by a story collection, Read This and Tell Me What it Says in 1995. She has since published three more novels: Sister (1996) River Angel (1998) and the newly released Midnight Champagne. She's been awarded a Pushcart Prize, A Friends of American Writers Prize, and the Great Lakes Book Award, among others. Her books have been reprinted throughout Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. She lives in New York City with her husband of nine years, where she is at work on a memoir and another novel.
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Customer Reviews

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( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012

    Very good read!!!

    While this is not my favorite book by this author, I did enjoy the individual storylines and how they all came together at the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2002

    A Toast for this 'Champagne'

    An excellent read! Wonderfully written, and with such style and humor, that it compells the reader to go out and purchase whatever this author has written. Ansay is a voice that will travel well through the years. The story, of love, of sacrifice, of comprimise, is also filled with the hauntings of the mechanics that turn our relationships, married or not. I hate to end with this cliche: but I ended this novel with a warm, fuzzy feeling: not about love, but about life: its hard knocks and its gentle caresses. I had a big smile as I passed it on to the next, lucky reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2000

    Excellent book

    Magnificent story. Well-elaborated plot. The author takes us through the adventures of some of the participant to a wedding in the middle of a winter storm. The plot develops right in front of our eyes with incredible logic. Smooth transitions from scene to scene. Little by little all pieces of information fall into place and you can't help but to fully understand the human side of the characters (as well as the not-so-human characters) I do recommend this book. Easy to read, wonderful writing. Leaves you with the taste of good literature.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2000

    A book you can relate to

    I found this book very enjoyable, and one that I think others would like too. I think if you have ever been to or in a wedding, there will be a character in this book that you can identify with.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2000

    My Review

    Why doesn't stuff like this ever happen at weddings that I go to? I had a hard time putting this book down, although it was just a tad raunchy. =)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2000

    Love in many flavors

    Unique plot and insights into many different aspects of love; very entertaining and hard to put down. This is the first book I have read by this author, but will definitely read others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2000

    A New Slant.

    This is the first book I have read by Ansay. She certainly gives a new slant to the tired old tales of family problems. It's good how a wedding party in the depths of winter brings out all the issues which confront the various people attending. Unlike a lot of recent books on families this novel does not leave you gloomy at all. Indeed you feel that most of the characters have started to face things. As a bonus the story has some very funny moments. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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