Mighty Life List
Oct 1 2014

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Hey look, it’s a contemporary author who has me waiting for her next novel. That doesn’t happen often.

I recently read Maggie’s Astonish Me, and while we wait for her next book, I thought I’d post my favorite parts of her first book, Seating Arrangements:

How had she, Biddy, managed to raise someone so exposed and defenseless, a charred moth, a turtle without a shell, exactly the kind of woman she most feared to be?

“Hey, I’m not a member of this Great Gastby reenactment society you all have going on. I just think it’s possible to trick yourself into feeling better by pretending you feel better.”

While Winn believed that worthwhile young men must be carefree, he also believed that worthwhile grown men must bear up under the burden of respectability. He puzzled over when exactly the music should be stopped and the drunks sent home and the crepe paper swept from the floors to make room for cribs and Labradors. Is it now? he wondered as he set down his drink and turned from a conversation with a beautiful girl to vomit into the swimming pool of his friend Tyson Baker. When he heard some months later that Tyson Baker had died during a game of pond hockey, dropping through the ice like a lead weight, he thought, Is it now?

Underneath her wedding dress Biddy wore a white garter belt and stockings that he found unbearably sexy but did not tell her so, not wanting to embarrass her by making a fuss and also incorrectly assuming she had a whole trousseau of lingerie that she would, without prompting, trot out over their first year. Silence over stockings — the first regret of his marriage.

She was so entirely the kind of person he should be married to that he loved her, in part, out of gratitude for her very appropriateness.

Spending so much time with the Van Meters was like returning to a cherished childhood home and discovering that either her memory had been wrong or time had taken its toll, and the place was not magical or special at all but ordinary, flawed — a revelation doubly offensive because it made a certain swath of past happiness seem cheap, the product of ignorance.

Dominique peeled the label from her beer while Dicky Jr. talked, her head angled toward him to suggest she was listening.

Vocabulary:

Aubusson rug – floor covering, usually of considerable size, handwoven at the villages of Aubusson and Felletin, in the d├ępartement of Creuse in central France. Workshops were established in 1743 to manufacture pile carpets primarily for the nobility, to whom the Savonnerie court production was not available. Aubusson carpets were, however, also made for the royal residences.

gliss – In music, a glissando is a glide from one pitch to another. It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, to glide. In some contexts it is distinguished from the continuous portamento. Some colloquial equivalents are slide, sweep, bend, or ‘smear’.

One Response to “Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead”

  • Megan Says:

    “She was so entirely the kind of person he should be married to that he loved her, in part, out of gratitude for her very appropriateness.”

    Wow.