Midnight Champagneby A. Manette Ansay
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… See more details below
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.
The New York Times Book Review \
The New York Times Book Review
Time Out NY
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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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