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A Wedding in December

A Wedding in December

2.9 81
by Anita Shreve

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At an inn in the Berkshire Mountains, seven former schoolmates gather to celebrate a wedding--a reunion that becomes the occasion of astonishing revelations as the friends collectively recall a long-ago night that indelibly marked each of their lives. Written with the fluent narrative artistry that distinguishes all of Anita Shreve's bestselling novels, A Wedding in


At an inn in the Berkshire Mountains, seven former schoolmates gather to celebrate a wedding--a reunion that becomes the occasion of astonishing revelations as the friends collectively recall a long-ago night that indelibly marked each of their lives. Written with the fluent narrative artistry that distinguishes all of Anita Shreve's bestselling novels, A Wedding in December acutely probes the mysteries of the human heart and the endless allure of paths not taken.

Editorial Reviews

In Anita Shreve's ensemble novel, seven former high school friends reunite for a wedding in the Berkshires, 26 years after their graduation. This Big Chill–like gathering stirs old passions and feuds, some of which have been festering since the death of a charismatic schoolmate at a high school party. As usual, Shreve puts her characters through the emotional wringer before she sets them out to dry. Wedding in December is one of her most effective and moving works.
Carolyn See
I wouldn't want to call Anita Shreve's very enjoyable novel derivative, but it's a homage to that old movie The Big Chill and also to The Group, that Mary McCarthy novel where all those college girls get together again as women…I really liked this book. It's beautifully and imaginatively written. But I also have to admit that A Wedding in December works at one level as exceedingly high-class domestic porn—a paean to how we all wish we could live if we had the time, money, discipline and dedication.
—The Washington Post
Chelsea Cain
You might think that a clique of privileged, navel-gazing 40-somethings who reunite for a wedding and spend the weekend at an inn drinking cabernet sauvignon and rehashing prep school days would come off as a tad self-involved. And hey, you'd be right. Happily, Shreve's knack for engrossing storytelling mostly makes up for the bourgeois malaise.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
A Big Chill-like group reunites for a 40-something wedding in this melancholy story of missed opportunities, lingering regrets and imagined alternatives by Shreve (The Last Time They Met). Bill and Bridget were sweethearts at Maine's Kidd Academy who rediscovered one another at their 25th reunion. Bridget was already divorced; Bill left his family; the two have now gathered their Kidd coterie to witness their hasty wedding-Bridget has breast cancer-at widow Nora's western Massachusetts inn. The death of charismatic schoolmate Stephen at a drunken high school party hovers over the event. Stephen's then-roommate, Harrison, now a married literary publisher, remains particularly tormented by it, especially since he had (and still has) romantic feelings for Nora, who was Stephen's then-girlfriend. Abrasive Wall Street businessman Jerry, now-out-of-the-closet pianist Rob, single Agnes (who teaches at Kidd and has a secret of her own) and various children round things out. Tensions build as the group gets snowed in, and someone gets drunk enough to say what everyone's been thinking. Though Shreve's plot, characters and dialogue are predictable (as are her inevitable 9/11 rehashes), she sure-handedly steers everyone through their inward dramas, and the actions they take (and don't) are Hollywood satisfying. (Oct. 10) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A group of former schoolmates from Maine's Kidd Academy gather in the Berkshires for a wedding just three months after 9/11. In Shreve's (Light on Snow) latest, Nora, widow of a much older poet, has turned her home into an inn and is hosting the nuptials of fellow classmates Bill and Bridget. The pair had been an item at Kidd and have reunited to make it legal. The characters, all in their mid-forties, have more baggage than required for a weekend stay. Agnes, now a history teacher at Kidd, is writing a short story based on the Halifax shipping disaster of 1917 and bemoaning her longtime affair with a married man. Harrison, down from Toronto and married with two sons, has always loved Nora; at Kidd, Nora had been the girlfriend of Harrison's roommate, Stephen. The story behind Stephen's death in their senior year underlies a good deal of the tension among the guests. The many what-ifs and might-have-beens come to a head during this "happy occasion" that is also touched by heartache. Shreve's poignant story of lost love and hidden truths is a compelling read. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/05.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This novel has many of Shreve's hallmarks: simple and elegant prose; characters who are entirely convincing in their portrayals of human fallibility; and a plot buildup with a twist toward the end that packs a wallop. Set in New England several months after 9/11, it is the story of seven former classmates who have not seen one another in 27 years but have come together for the wedding of Bill and Bridget, who dated during high school and then went their separate ways. They have reunited and are getting married in the face of Bridget's advanced breast cancer. Nora, who owns the inn where the wedding will be held, is trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. Agnes, Nora's former roommate, has a secret she is desperate to share. Over all of them hangs the specter of Stephen, whose charismatic life and tragic death they seem unable to address head-on. Paralleling the story of these friends is the one in the novel Agnes is writing about the Halifax explosion of 1917, a little-known disaster that resulted in the deaths of almost 2000 citizens. This story-within-a-story not only provides an eye-opening account of a piece of World War I history, but also allows Agnes to address some of her own issues. An understated and graceful exploration of the choices that people make in their day-to-day interactions and their consequences, Wedding is an excellent piece of American literature to add to any library.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Library System, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A group of prep-schoolmates reunite 27 years after graduation. Seven former high-school friends gather at a beautifully restored Vermont inn owned by Nora, one of the group, for the wedding of Bill and Bridget, who spent their teen years locked at the hip and lip. Everyone had expected them to marry right after graduation, but instead they went their separate ways. Now long-divorced, Bridget is undergoing chemo for metastasized breast cancer, and Bill has left his wife to be with her for whatever time Bridget has to live. Harrison, who has harbored an unrequited love for Nora since his charismatic roommate Steve won her heart three decades before, is the first guest to arrive. Next is Agnes, who now teaches at their former alma mater; she is in possession of a secret that would shock them all. Rob, a world-class concert pianist, shows up with his lover, Josh, a choice none would have expected. Finally, Jerry, the financial success of the group, arrives in a chauffeur-driven limo with a lot of attitude and a furious wife. Subplots having to do with the suspicious drowning of Steve during senior year (were Nora and Harrison somehow responsible?), and Nora's recently deceased abusive husband, the famous poet Carl Laski, are woven in as the schoolmates compare and measure their positions in life. Shreve is at her best when observing the choices her middle-aged, middle-class characters make daily about marriage, children, health care and sex. Her depiction of Bridget and the quotidian inconvenience-along with the terror-of having cancer is notably well done. But all the masterful detail leads up to a predictable climax, like the practiced, unsurprising lovemaking of a long-married couple. Animpressive display of literary talent from Shreve (Light on Snow, 2004, etc.) that deserves to be employed in a riskier undertaking. Readers, however, will not be disappointed.

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A Wedding in December

By Anita Shreve

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2005 Anita Shreve
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-73899-9

Chapter One

The glaciers are receding," she said. Nora peered through the window as if she could see the progress of said glaciers some ten thousand miles north. "I read it in the paper. This morning."

The view, Harrison had noted before he'd sat down, was of still-green lawns and dormant rosebushes, of a wrought iron fence and a garden bench, of ornamental grasses and white pines. Beyond the considerable acreage was a steel ribbon of river and beyond that a range of mountains, blue-gray in the morning light.

"The birds must be confused," he said.

"They are. I ... I see them flying north all the time."

"Is it bad for business?"

"No. Not really. No one's canceled. Though the ski areas are suffering."

Nora left the window and moved to the chair opposite. He watched her cross her legs, a cuff riding just above the edge of a black leather boot and making a slim bracelet of smooth white skin. Harrison superimposed the woman he saw now over the memory of the seventeen-year-old girl he'd once known, a girl with a soft face and large almond-shaped eyes, a girl who had been graceful in her movements. The woman before him was forty-four, and some of the softness had left her face. Her hair was different, too. She wore it short, swept behind her ears, a cut that looked more European than American.

When they'd met just moments earlier at the foot of the stairs in the front hallway, Nora had been standing at a small reception desk. She'd glanced up and seen Harrison, and for a moment she'd examined him as an innkeeper might a guest one had not yet attended to. Harrison, she'd said then, advancing, and his own smile had begun. As Nora had embraced him, Harrison had felt both unnerved and buoyant-a cork floating in uncharted waters.

"Your ... your room is comfortable?" she asked.

He remembered this about her. The slight stutter, as if hesitant to speak. No, not a stutter; more a stutter step.

"Very," he said. "Great views."

"Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee?"

"Coffee would be fine. That's quite a machine there."

"It makes espresso with a lot of crema," she said, standing. "It's a draw, actually. Some of the guests have said they've come back for the coffee in the library. Well, for that and for the dumbwaiter. I put the dining room upstairs. To take advantage of the views."

On either side of the bookshelves were half columns, and below those shelves were cabinets. On one wall, there was a built-in bench upholstered in lichen stripes. The windows-a set of three facing west-had panes in the tops only, so that from the leather couch on which Harrison was seated he had an unobstructed view of the mountains.

"How long has this been an inn?" he asked.

"Two years."

"I was sorry to hear about your husband."

"You sent a card."

He nodded, surprised that Nora remembered. There must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cards for such a distinguished man.

"Renovations," she said, making a gesture so as to take in the entire building. "Renovations had to be made."

"You've done a terrific job," he replied, slightly jarred by the non sequitur.

Harrison had followed signs from the center of town to the inn and then had taken the long drive up the hill to the top. When he'd reached the parking lot, the view of the Berkshire Mountains had opened up and stopped his heart in the same way that, as a boy at Cinerama, his heart had always paused as the camera had soared up and over a cliff edge to reveal the Grand Canyon or the Rift Valley or the ice fields of Antarctica.

He'd walked with his suitcase to the front steps, noting along the way the pruned bushes, the raked lawns, and, in a maze that had perhaps lost its challenge, the expertly trimmed hedges. The inn was sheathed in white clapboards and shingles and sported a chimney that tilted slightly forward. The windows, unadorned, shone in the morning light. Like many houses built at the turn of the century, it had gables of differing widths and porches sprouting unconventionally at odd angles. The outline of the roof, Harrison thought, would be almost impossible to draw from memory.

Inside, the inn had a crisp edge that had been accomplished in part, Harrison thought, with a great deal of white paint and chrome. Much as he admired the inn, however, he wondered if visitors ever lamented the lost house, the one Carl Laski had inhabited.

"This used to be an inn. Years ago," Nora said. "After World War II, it became a private home. There's an early photograph. Behind you on the wall."

Harrison stood and leaned in toward the wall, balancing himself with his hand on the back of the couch. The photograph, framed in dark walnut, was remarkably detailed and clear, every blade of grass and twig made distinct with a kind of vision denied the naked eye. The picture was of a white shingled building with a cupola on its roof. It looked to be November or early March, to judge from the light dusting of snow that outlined the furrows of a garden. At the river's edge, there was a trail of mist, but he saw, on closer inspection, that it was really smoke from a moving train, the train itself a blur, merely a shadow.

"The photograph dates from 1912," Nora said. "It was made from a glass negative. There's a rose garden there. And a racetrack."

Harrison sat again on the couch and wondered if anyone else had arrived yet. He had wanted to be the first, to see Nora without the noise of the others. "It was an inn, then a house, and then an inn again?" he asked.

She smiled at his confusion. "When Carl and I moved here, it was a private house. We lived here for fifteen years. After he died ... after he died, I had the idea of reconverting it to an inn. It had always wanted to be an inn. Even when it was a house."

"How many rooms are there?"

"There used to be twenty-two."

"How did you manage?"

"We closed most of the rooms off. Would you like more coffee?"

"No thanks. I'm fine. Any of the others here yet?"

"Agnes said she'd be here by lunch. Bill and Bridget, too. Rob ... Rob won't be here until later."

"Rob's coming?" Harrison asked with pleasure. He hadn't seen Rob Zoar in ... well, in twenty-seven years. Harrison was startled by the number and recalculated. Yes, twenty-seven. "He's in Boston now, isn't he? I think I read that."

"He performs all over the world. He gets wonderful reviews."

"I was surprised to hear he was a pianist. He kept it quiet at Kidd, didn't he?"

"I think he tried to resist it."

"It seems like this wedding came together very fast," he said.

"It did."

Too fast for Harrison's wife, Evelyn, to rearrange her schedule. Bill had sent Harrison an e-mail saying that he and Bridget were getting married-at the inn-and he wanted Harrison and Evelyn to come. Harrison and Bill had for a time kept in touch (their families had gone skiing together twice), but Harrison had had no idea at all about Bill and Bridget.

"Bridget's sick," Nora added. "It's why Bill wants to do it now."

"How sick?" Harrison asked.

"Very," Nora said, her face tight. "Do you remember them together?"

"At school? Of course." Bill had been a muscular catcher, a consistent hitter with power who had routinely sent the baseball over the fence. Bridget, a serious girl, was pretty in a slightly plump way. In another era, she'd have been a beauty. The couple used to cross the campus so entwined it was as if they were one creature. Harrison recalled how disillusioned he had been when he'd heard that each had married someone else.

"How did they reconnect?" he asked now.

"Our twenty-fifth. Did you ever go to any of the reunions?"

He shook his head. He'd told himself that he hadn't gone for Evelyn's sake. She was Canadian, she wouldn't have known anyone, the journey would have consumed too many of her precious days off. But Harrison couldn't satisfactorily explain why he hadn't gone by himself. The simple answer, he supposed, was that he hadn't wanted to. The sight of the invitations had produced in him an anxiety he had no intention of exploring. Even this small reunion-this hasty wedding-had made him hesitate.

"You?" he asked.

Nora shook her head, and Harrison was not surprised. He could not imagine Carl Laski at a Kidd reunion.

"Have you seen any of the others?" Nora asked. "Since school, I mean?"

"Well, Bill," he said. "And I met Jerry in New York about five years ago. We had drinks."

"He's coming with his wife, Julie," Nora said. "What was it like, meeting Jerry?"

"He mostly wanted me to know how successful he'd become," Harrison said and then shrugged to take the edge off the unkind comment.

"You're staying until Sunday?" Nora asked.

"I think that's the plan."

Harrison had flown from Toronto to Hartford, rented a car, and driven to the Massachusetts Turnpike, which he had followed west. He'd realized, as he'd driven, that he'd never been to western Massachusetts. When he had visited New England before, it had always been to Boston and then straight on to Kidd in Maine. Never inland. He'd known of the Berkshires, of course. Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was world famous. Edith Wharton had summered in Lenox. Melville had written Moby Dick in Pittsfield.

"There are some good walks," Nora said, gesturing toward the windows. "The weather ... the weather is amazing."

"It's been unseasonable in Toronto as well. Very mild."

"Each day has been more beautiful than the last," she said. "I think Nature means to mock us."

"How so?"


Harrison nodded slowly.

"All that horror. All that grief." She paused. "People ... people are stopping one another on the streets and saying, Can you imagine? and Isn't this extraordinary? and Enjoy it while you can."

"They say the temperature is breaking all records."

"I think it will reach seventy-two today," she said.

"Surely a record for the first week in December."

"I wonder ... I wonder if the idea is that the sins of man, more terrible than anyone's ability to imagine them, are nothing in the face of Nature's bounty and serenity," Nora said.

"Nature a supreme being?" Harrison asked, puzzled.


"A terrible one at times."

"Not today."

"No, not today," Harrison said.

"Or ... or are we meant to be reminded of a reason to stay alive? To savor each day as if it might be the last?"

"Nature capable of grace?" Harrison asked. "I like that."

Nora laughed, reached forward, and touched him lightly at the tip of his knee. "Listen to us," she said. "We're so pretentious. We used to do this all the time in Mr. Mitchell's class, didn't we?"

"We did," he said, glad that she remembered, more gladdened by her sudden touch.

"It's great to see you," she said with seemingly genuine pleasure.

"Where were you when it happened?" he asked.

"Here. In the kitchen. I turned on the TV just before the second plane hit. Judy, my assistant-you're bound to meet her-came in and told me. What about you?"

"I was in Toronto," he said. "I was eating breakfast. I had a cup of coffee and the newspaper. On the television, the announcer's voice changed in pitch, and I looked up in time to see a plane hit the second tower."

The images of that day had played and replayed for hours, Canadian television more willing to air the most horrific images-those falling bodies-than American stations had been.

"Were you frightened?" he asked.

"Here? No. Not really. Upset. Very upset. But not frightened. I thought of Carl. I was glad he wasn't alive. To see it."

Nora began to nibble at the skin at the top of her index finger. Abruptly she stopped, putting her hands in her lap with a decisive gesture. From behind the shut door of the library, Harrison could hear a vacuum cleaner.

"They say it's the death of literature," she added.

"I think that's a little extreme," he said, shifting his position on the couch. In the days following the tragedy, he'd been greatly annoyed by such dramatic remarks. "I admired your husband's work very much," he added, feeling remiss that he hadn't mentioned this earlier.

"He ... he was a wonderful man," Nora said. "A wonderful poet and a wonderful man."


"I was the helpmeet," Nora said, surprising Harrison with the archaic word. "I've ... I've never understood what that means exactly. Helpmeet. Help. Meet."

"I'll look it up for you," he offered.

"I could do it myself. I must have a dictionary. Somewhere ..." She gazed at the spines of the books that lined the shelves.

For Harrison, the brilliance of Carl Laski's work lay in its oblique nature, the way the point of a poem was often a glancing blow: a glimpsed headline across the breakfast table while a woman tells her husband she has a lover, or a man berating his wife on a cell phone in an airport lounge as he passes a small child sitting alone with a bright red suitcase. Later it will be the memory of the child with the suitcase that will bring the man to his knees in his hotel room.

Harrison, of course, knew of Laski's reputation. The poet had won numerous international prizes, had been the recipient of honorary degrees, had been-when he'd died-professor emeritus at St. Martin's College, at which he had founded the celebrated St. Martin's Writers School and from which he had sent out into the world a disproportionate share of poets. Laski, Harrison had read, regarded the writing of poetry as man's highest calling and therefore worth the inevitable squandering of happy marriages and good health, to say nothing of sound finances. Largely due to his efforts, poetry had been enjoying something of a renaissance when he'd died, though one so mild as to barely register on the North American consciousness. Not one man in forty could today name a living poet, Harrison thought. Not one in a hundred could say who Carl Laski had been.

Harrison had also read the Roscoff biography, a book that purported to be literary but showed almost no interest in the work itself. Rather, Roscoff had focused on the more lurid aspects of Laski's life: his abusive father, his early drinking problem, his nearly obsessive womanizing while a professor at New York University, his disastrous first marriage, the loss of his sons in a bitter custody battle, and his subsequent self-imposed (and somewhat misanthropic) exile to the backwater college of St. Martin's in western Massachusetts. "Your husband should have won the Nobel Prize," Harrison said.

Nora laughed. "If he were here, he'd agree with you."

"Was it difficult for him, being passed up year after year?"

"It ... it was an event each time it was awarded. I mean that it would register. Like a small seismic shudder. He'd hear the news or read it in the newspaper, or someone would call and tell him, and his face, for just a moment, would cave in. Even as he was ranting about the winner or reading another part of the paper. The only time ... the only time he didn't mind personally was when Seamus Heaney won. He loved Seamus."

Harrison set down his cup. Laski had been thirty years older than Nora. The two had met when Nora was nineteen; Laski, forty-nine. "Was it ever an issue between you-the age difference?" he asked.

"Only that he had to die before me."

Harrison listened for a note of bitterness or grief.

"We always knew it would happen," she added.

Harrison nodded.

"We just didn't know it would be so awful. One night ... one night when it was really bad, Carl said, 'It's so easy.' I thought he meant the pain. That somehow the pain had eased up. But he meant dying. That he'd found an easy way to die."

Laski had filled his bathtub, plugged in the hair dryer, and let it drop. Harrison remembered precisely where he'd been when he learned the startling news. An editor Harrison had once worked with in Toronto had walked by his table in a New York City restaurant, bent down, and murmured, Have you heard about Carl Laski?

"A terrible end to a magnificent life," Harrison said now.

Nora was silent.

"The courage to do that," he added.

"Carl ... Carl would have said 'cowardice.'"

"He had throat cancer?"

"He kept saying that he could never have described the pain. Not even at the height of his powers. That it defied words."

"It's hard for the healthy to imagine pain like that."

"But what was truly horrible, Carl always said, was the knowing. Knowing he was going to die."


Excerpted from A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve Copyright © 2005 by Anita Shreve.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of 14 previous novels, including Testimony; The Pilot's Wife, which was a selection of Oprah's Book Club; and The Weight of Water, which was a finalist for England's Orange prize. She lives in Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

New Hampshire; Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
B.A., Tufts University

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Wedding in December 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story line was weak
Charlotte_Isabella More than 1 year ago
This book took a lot for me to get into it. There was a story within a story, and it was just not a book that impressed me. It was a very ordinary tale, and some of the book really built up and up and up and then ran into a brick wall...not impressed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very disappointing. It is a rather trite romance about a group of prep school friends who come together for a midlife wedding of two schoolmates. The characters are rather pathetic - except for the out-of-the-closet gay guy. Everyone gets to have sex with their lost loves - and even the divorced groom has his estranged daughter attend the wedding. The best part of the book is the story within a story told by the spinster classmate - who is writing a book about a disaster in Halifax. I wish Shrieve had told that story instead. I find I really did not care for any of these people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was my first book by this author.....what a waste! Terrible! I finished the book thinking, What???? My friend tells me to read The Pilot's Wife, so maybe she gets better.
stacybuckeye More than 1 year ago
My least favorite of those I've read by her.  Too many choices that ultimately led to adultry for almost every character.
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One of the most boring, poorly written books ever.
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Since I'm a big fan of Anita Shreve, this was another in a long line of easy reads.
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Karyn429 More than 1 year ago
I love Anita Shreve and this book was excellent!
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This is my 2nd Anita Shreve novel...and I can't say I am overly thrilled....I leave feeling there are many questions unanswered and almost irritated. I feel the context is good but the ending poor!
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