The two very different families of an engaged couple meet for a prenuptial dinner in the garden of the groom's parents' home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
"The excitable flower beds toss light and color to one another and toward the weathered shingles of the house, but the brilliance of the sun causes the rooms inside to appear cavernous and dark. Ecstatic chopping noises come from the kitchen, the staccato pulse of knife on wood, scallions mostly, mint." Former biologist Mazur's (Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination, 2010) novel wafts in on a heady cloud of flowers, fragrances, and jewellike descriptions, redolent with overtones of Virginia Woolf and A Midsummer Night's Dream and finishing notes of Julia Glass. Generously, the author begins by sharing the seating plan devised by the hostess, Celia Cohen, for her party of 25. It's a face-off between the Cohens, a family of academics, poets, and world travelers, including their cosmopolitan 91-year-old matriarch, and the Barlows, a sedate family of lawyers, with their mildly demented and unpredictable 89-year-old grandpa. Perhaps the author's sympathies lie a little too blatantly on the side of the Cohens, or maybe those Barlow people really are just that insensitive, stuffy, and adulterous. To get through so much happening to so many in just 240 pages, the novel is very light on its feet, whisking us through a slide show of mostly delightful scenes, both live-action and in the minds and memories of the characters. There is a naked badminton game, a hilarious rundown of the dietary prohibitions of each of the guests—"Yellow? You can't be allergic to yellow. Not to a color. That makes no sense"—a moving moment in Logan airport, and lots of interesting information about bugs, plants, and ancient Babylonian recipes. Some of the more complicated fictional gambits, involving interfamily relationships, are too rushed to be fully believable. As for the final vignette, which takes us off to another time and place, well, it wasn't the dessert we were hoping for, really.
Beautifully written and bracingly intelligent.