In this comic novel set in 1981, a pre-wedding reception with a spiked punch bowl leads to revelations among a group of old friends and acquaintances.
When Blair Brackman, a therapist, receives an invitation to his client’s surprise pre-wedding reception, it galvanizes his resolve. He’s carried a torch for his patient, Melissa Manning, since second grade; as her therapist, he gladly helped her through her first divorce while concealing his own feelings. Now he believes that she’s making another mistake by marrying Rod Schoenlieber, so he vows to “break up the damn wedding.” Melissa’s disorganized mother, Meg, is holding the informal reception in her apartment, and she invites everyone in her daughter’s old address book—without being aware of how her friendships have changed. Invitees include Deirdre Rehnquist (also Blair’s patient) and her date, Milton Perkins, a poet; Deirdre’s depressed, broke ex-husband, John Palopolus; Rebecca Harvey, a hardworking single mother with a provocative air; Melissa’s sister, Val Manning; narcissistic Dickie Rawlings (yet another of Blair’s patients, who’s having an affair with Deirdre) and his wife, the sexy, dim Candy; C.W. Dexter, an interior decorator; and a British man named Nigel Davies. Although Meg intends to serve a nonalcoholic punch, some guests spike it heavily and general drunkenness ensues. In the bedroom, Blair hides out, working up his nerve; John hides from Deirdre; and Dickie and Deirdre have sex on top of the guests’ coats. Meanwhile, the party unleashes tensions, revelations, and new understandings. Vincent (Saving Dr. Block, 2013, etc.) handles his farcelike plot very capably, as each new doorbell ring sets off a fresh chain of surprises, disasters, or erotic energies. His characterizations overly rely on stereotypes, however, including a flamboyant, gay designer; a ditzy mom; a pretentious poet; and a vapid blonde. Also, the overall tone isn’t comic enough to overcome the distastefulness of Blair’s unethical, confidence-breaking behavior, as he sees Melissa’s sessions in terms of their benefits for him: “He was being paid to look at her, to have her close by. And listen to some degree, of course, which he could always finesse.” Given this malpractice, Blair’s self-pity (“Prometheus had a picnic compared to me”) is hard to take.
A well-engineered farce with some problematic characterization.