Kevin Kwan, New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians
Entertainment Weekly's Summer Must-Read
A Publishers Weekly BEST SUMMER BOOKS, 2017
New York Post Best Books of Summer
Redbook's 10 Books You Have To Read This Summer
"The summer’s most compelling fictional exploration of affluence and envy. Like all the best beach reads, it eats the rich like so many frozen grapes."
Relationships are awful. They'll kill you, right up to the point where they start saving your life.
Paul and Alice’s half-sister Eloise is getting married! In London! There will be fancy hotels, dinners at “it” restaurants and a reception at a country estate complete with tea lights and embroidered cloth napkins.
They couldn’t hate it more.
The People We Hate at the Wedding is the story of a less than perfect family. Donna, the clan’s mother, is now a widow living in the Chicago suburbs with a penchant for the occasional joint and more than one glass of wine with her best friend while watching House Hunters International. Alice is in her thirties, single, smart, beautiful, stuck in a dead-end job where she is mired in a rather predictable, though enjoyable, affair with her married boss. Her brother Paul lives in Philadelphia with his older, handsomer, tenured track professor boyfriend who’s recently been saying things like “monogamy is an oppressive heteronormative construct,” while eyeing undergrads. And then there’s Eloise. Perfect, gorgeous, cultured Eloise. The product of Donna’s first marriage to a dashing Frenchman, Eloise has spent her school years at the best private boarding schools, her winter holidays in St. John and a post-college life cushioned by a fat, endless trust fund. To top it off, she’s infuriatingly kind and decent.
As this estranged clan gathers together, and Eloise's walk down the aisle approaches, Grant Ginder brings to vivid, hilarious life the power of family, and the complicated ways we hate the ones we love the most in the most bitingly funny, slyly witty and surprisingly tender novel you’ll read this year.
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
A few summers ago, on the train back to the city from a wedding, a friend of Grant’s pulled out three bottles of pinot grigio which he had managed to snag from the reception, and which they proceeded to finish in about forty-five minutes. And, as the train winded its way toward Manhattan, the friend turned to Grant with glossy eyes and said “Okay, guys, people we hated at the wedding: go.” The next day, Grant started writing.
Read an Excerpt
The People We Hate at the Wedding
By Grant Ginder
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2017 Grant Ginder
All rights reserved.
Christ, Alice thinks, staring at the envelope, these invitations must have cost a fucking fortune.
Her phone buzzes against her desk, and she picks it up before it has a chance to ring twice.
"So, how much?"
It's Paul, her brother.
"Hold on." Alice scrolls down the website for a stationery company called Bella Lettera that she heard a coworker gushing about yesterday. Buried below a hundred pictures of dainty thank-you cards and save-the-dates, she finds what she's looking for: a pink-and-white pricing table for wedding invitations.
"I've only got about five minutes," he says.
"I'm going as fast as I can." She squints at the screen. "Why are you in such a rush?"
"I've just — I'm at work, okay? I've got shit to do."
"You're the one who was begging to talk last night."
"Yeah, and you said you were busy, just like I'm saying I'm busy now. So ..."
She wasn't busy; that had been a lie. When she got home last evening, she'd had grand plans of going for a run in Laurel Canyon — plans that were effectively squashed when she checked her mail and found, among the catalogs and bills, an invitation to her half sister Eloise's wedding. She opened a bottle of white wine and dealt with the bills first — or perhaps dealt is too strong, too ambitious a word. Really, she just stared at the crushing amounts her creditors were demanding. Then, when she was good and drunk, she leaned forward and ripped open the invitation, giving herself a nasty paper cut in the process.
"Shit," she'd said, and stared at the dot of blood on her finger as she waited for the sting to register. A few moments later, once the cut had got her satisfyingly angry, she shoved her finger into her mouth and sucked on it, cringing at the metallic taste: her blood, she thought, the stuff that filled her body, was nothing but a fistful of pennies.
Returning to her couch, she sat down and stared at the mess of paper in front of her. As a rule, she doesn't believe in omens. She never reads her horoscope, and she thinks Fate is just the name narcissists give to Coincidence. Getting caught in a traffic jam, winning the lottery, dying in a plane crash: it's all just the slapdash workings of chance. Things happen, and things don't. Still, though: slicing your finger open on your sister's wedding invitation can't be a good sign.
Paul says, "Hello?"
"I'm here, I'm here."
She skims down the table's columns: foil, no foil; card-stock type; multiple colors.
"So how much did they cost?"
"Okay." Alice drums her fingers across her desk. In the cubicle next to her, the phone rings. "Let's see. We think it's two-ply paper, right?"
"I think so," Paul says. "I've got it right in front of me. Thick and nice as shit."
"Yeah, I've got it right here, too."
Alice picks Eloise's invitation up off her desk. The paper is full and cottony, halfway between papyrus and a quilt, she thinks. And if she looks closely enough, she can see details she missed last night: wisps in its pulp, places where it's been hand pressed — all sorts of little irregularities that add up to a hefty price tag.
Paul says, "Okay, so we can agree on two-ply?"
"Absolutely." She traces her half sister's name. "How many colors are we dealing with?"
"I was just going to ask that," Paul says. "I count three: gold, silver, and that terrible, shitty English-seaside blue."
Alice liked the blue when she first opened the envelope; it had reminded her of the peonies her mother used to grow in their garden in St. Charles.
"Right," she says. "Three colors. Do we think it's letterpress or foil stamping or what?"
Paul's breathing finally slows down. "So, Mark and I were talking about this last night. He originally thought it was letterpress. But, I mean, if you look closely, you can pretty obviously see the foil."
Alice closes her left eye and squints at the name of the groom: Oliver. The elegant O glints under the office's fluorescent lights.
"Definitely foil," she says. "And we estimated how many?"
"I'd say two hundred fifty. That bitch knows a lot of people."
"I think that's probably reasonable." Alice reaches for a pen and a Post-it, jots down a few numbers, and performs a series of mental calculations. "So, we're looking at about eighteen hundred, but that just covers the invitation, program cover, and program panel." She scrolls down to the site's next table. "For response cards, and the save-the-dates we got a few months ago, and menus, and all of that shit, we've got to consider another ... looks like about fifteen hundred."
"So we're up to about thirty-three hundred."
"... and then envelopes are going to run another seven hundred, at least."
"Okay, so four thousand. Anything else?"
Alice does a quick inventory. "No, I think that's it."
"We'll throw in an additional five hundo, because it's Eloise, which brings us up to forty-five hundred dollars," Paul says. "And you're sure this website's legit? Like, it's analogous to something El would use?"
"Totally." Alice lowers her voice to a whisper. "The girl I overheard talking about it is a real fucking snob."
"Okay, good. So: forty-five fucking hundred dollars on invitations. Absolutely ridiculous."
Alice examines her invitation again. "At least they came out nicely."
"Well, they better have for nearly five grand."
"You're acting surprised."
"No," Alice says. "We knew it would cost her at least that much. We just wanted to be justified in our disgust."
Paul says, "It's blood money, is what it is."
"You're being a little dramatic."
"Am I, though? Our entire childhood, her dad's funneling cash into some trust fund for her, just because he feels guilty over what he did to Mom."
"He's her father. That's what rich fathers do. They give their daughters money." She adds, though she knows she shouldn't, "And speaking of Mom, you should really give her a call, you know."
"I'm not getting into that, Alice. Do you hear me? I'm not getting into that. Anyway, we never saw a cent of that money."
"It wasn't ours, Paul. We didn't deserve any of it."
She wants to believe herself.
Paul scoffs. "We went to a public school that looked like it was out of some D-rate John Hughes movie; she went to school — elementary school through high school — at Collège Alpin Beau Soleil in Switzerland. We spent our fucking summers in Tampa. She spent hers in Santorini."
"Yeah, well. Still. I'd much rather have had our dad for a father any day."
"Me, too," he says.
Alice tosses the invitation down on the desk. "I can't remember the last time I thought this much about a piece of paper. You're at least going to go, aren't you?" she asks, once she's sat back down.
"Probably not," Paul says. "Mark and I were already talking of plans that weekend."
"The wedding isn't until July eleventh."
"And today's the first of May."
"So what's your point?"
"What life-changing plans could you possibly have made over two months in advance?"
In the background on his end she hears a gentle roar: a leaf blower, or a passing truck.
"We're talking about going camping with Preston and Crosby. In the Poconos."
Alice plants her elbows on her desk and cradles the phone against her shoulder. "I'm sorry," she says. "Did I hear you right? I couldn't have. I actually couldn't have. Because what I thought you just said was that you were going to miss your sister's wedding to go gay camping in the Poconos."
"Half sister," Paul corrects.
"I can't believe this." She pinches her eyes shut and wards off the beginnings of a flash migraine.
"I can't just drop everything every time Eloise decides to smother us with her own happiness, Alice. I have a life, you know."
"You're implying that I don't."
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. That's what makes it an implication."
There's a pause. Alice bookmarks the Bella Lettera website, un-bookmarks it, and then bookmarks it again before finally closing the window.
She says, "Please tell me you'll be there."
"I need to think about it."
"Paul," she says, trying not to plead. "Tell me you'll be there."
"I have to go."
"Alice, I'm leaving now."
She leans forward and lowers her voice to a whisper. "So help me God, Paul, if you hang up on me I'll fucking come for you."
Alice hears Paul sigh dramatically, and the line goes dead.
"What's your anxiety level?"
"My God, this is disgusting."
"Yes, I imagine it is."
"No, but really. This is absolutely repulsive. It's like you can actually see the disease. There, look, right next to my pinkie finger. Syphilis, crawling around, having a grand old time."
This time Paul doesn't answer. Wendy shifts her hands along the flanks of the garbage can, but she doesn't let go. Earlier, during their first session of the day, she'd kicked the steel bin away after five agonized seconds and Dr. Goulding, Paul's supervisor, had demanded that Wendy pick up each piece of trash with her bare hands. Three banana peels and a maxipad later, she lost it. Fell to the ground and started pounding her fists against the pavement. She wailed so hard and so loud about the pervasiveness of germs that a group of patients inside took breaks from facing their own fears to huddle in one of the clinic's broad bay windows, where they looked on, mouths agape. The only thing that got Wendy up was when Paul, playing the nice guy to Goulding's bad-cop shtick, had leaned over and said, "You're doing great, Wendy — just think of how filthy the ground must be."
Now, he hears himself ask again: "What's your anxiety level?"
"A nine? A nine point five? A nine point nine?" She pinches her eyes shut, and Paul watches the metal fog up around her fingers as she grips the can tighter. "What's higher than a nine point nine?"
"A nine point nine nine, I'd guess."
"Can I go to two decimal places? Can I go to nine point nine nine?" Sweat beads in the shallow grooves of Wendy's temples, and tears balance just beneath her eyes. Paul lets his gaze fall back to his clipboard: this is the part he hates the most, the moment right before the panic begins to slowly subside, when the patient seems so sure that fear and her own frenetic synapses might cause her heart to burst. When Paul, despite his knowing better, is blindly certain that, through some violent act of empathy, his own heart might burst as well.
"You can say it's a ten, you know," he says.
"No, I can't."
"If it feels like it's a ten, you should say it's a ten."
Wendy shakes her head. In the sun, the roots of her blond hair are streaked with dull glints of gray.
"I can't handle a ten. If I say it's a ten, then I can't handle it. I want to handle it."
Paul tries to keep a straight face — Goulding throws a fit whenever one of his caseworkers reacts emotionally to something a patient says — but he can't help it; he grins as he jots down "9.99" on a line marked COMPULSIVE FEAR AND ANXIETY CONTROL. He likes Wendy too much. Despite the fretful disposition, the need to wash her hands until they are blistered and red, the insistence on using a fresh toothbrush each night, there are other parts of Wendy that exist free of her compulsions, parts that Paul finds soothing: the frayed collars of her polo shirts, the chipped pearl earrings she wears every day. The creamy scent of the Yves Saint Laurent perfume that trails her around the clinic. All of it adds up to a sort of faded WASP aesthetic, like she's been plucked from a year-old Talbots catalog. She reminds him, more or less, of the mothers of his wealthier friends from college. The sort of women who didn't visit campus, but instead dropped by; who insisted on buying him dinner and laughing at his jokes; who always offered him a hopeful — if not entirely sober — form of kinship. He often catches himself imagining that Wendy could be his own mother, if his mother were, actually, someone else entirely.
She showed up at the clinic two months ago, at the forefront of a weeklong rush of about a hundred other prospective patients. They'd all seen Goulding on Good Morning America ("Which time?" he asked each of them; behind his clipboard, Paul rolled his eyes), where he had been invited to discuss his latest book, Torturing Your Way to a Peaceful Mind. It was the third volume in a vague and loose-ish series. The first two, which had been required reading in the Master's in Psychology program at New York University, where Paul had studied, were titled Killing Your Obsession and (rather distastefully, Paul thought) Murdering Your Compulsion. Wendy, like most of Goulding's patients, claimed to have pored over each one multiple times, her highlighter poised ready in her gloved hand ("I'll make sure to tell the doctor," Paul had said, smiling. He didn't. He never did). The raves over Goulding's literature during initial patient interviews never come as a shock to him or any of the other caseworkers — all three books have been runaway hits, thanks in no small part to their incendiary titles and shocking methods.
More conservative members of the psychotherapy community consider Goulding a maverick when it comes to the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. (In the January edition of Psychology Today that Paul had leafed through at the dentist's office, he had somewhat gleefully scanned a two-page spread in which a cadre of noted analysts likened Goulding to famous villains, ranging from Iago to the Joker. Then he remembered that this was the same Goulding who signed his paychecks, and he traded Psychology Today in for an old issue of Vanity Fair.) There are other therapists practicing similar treatments — in fact, Paul interviewed with another institute outside Boston two weeks before finishing graduate school — but none of them push the boundaries of exposure therapy quite as sadistically far as Goulding does. At those clinics, so far as Paul understands, the sort of immersive practices that Goulding champions are looked at as a final resort — a last-ditch effort desperate doctors try when cognitive behavioral therapy and drugs don't work. And even then, it's a matter of the patient being told she can't wash her hands before dinner; never would she be asked to molest a trash can.
"Can I take my hands away from this filthy thing now?" Wendy asks.
It's hot for May, even here, in the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia's Main Line, and the overripe scent of garbage is causing Wendy to pull a face.
Paul shields his eyes from the sun; Goulding forbids his caseworkers to sport any sort of eyewear. "Is your anxiety still at a nine point nine nine?"
"I've still got fucking Ebola crawling under my fingernails, haven't I?"
Paul stifles a grin a second time: he loves it when Wendy swears. She throws so much strength behind her fucks, her shits, her damns that the rest of the sentence is often left breathless and anemic. She looks down and blushes.
"Then no," Paul says. "You can't take your hands away just yet."
She quickly counts to five and then says, "How about now? Can I let go now? I feel much better."
"Your knees are shaking, and you're still sweating."
Wendy looks down at her legs — tan, crosshatched with shadows of varicose veins.
"Think of all those germs," Paul adds, following Goulding's script. "Think of all those germs crawling all over your body, and you're still alive."
"This isn't living, kid."
"Just hang on a bit longer." He stops himself short of agreeing with her. "You're doing great."
He watches her roll her eyes, and he thinks back to when he was first hired, nearly two years ago (God, he thought, could it really have been that long ago?). He'd just been awarded his master's degree, and he was more or less pure hearted and well intentioned; his actions and decisions were dictated by a sense of goodness and purpose. Or, at least, that's what he likes to think, now that he has the luxury of hiding behind hindsight. Regardless, the fact is that he had told himself that he believed in the work that Goulding was doing, and that was the important thing. It was controversial, and had a decidedly avant-garde bend, but still he believed in it, which made it the right job to take. Over the past five months, though, he's been having a tougher time convincing himself that he made the right decision. That purity that he felt, that blithe sense of goodness, has given way to a sort of flailing confusion, a rudderlessness that causes him to sneak cigarettes when Mark's out of town, or drink more whiskey than he should.
Excerpted from The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder. Copyright © 2017 Grant Ginder. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
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