Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder


published 2017

People we Hate 4


[Alice is looking at the invitation to her half-sister’s wedding]

Her phone buzzes … “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…

She skims down the table’s columns: foil, no foil; card-stock type; multiple colors. “Let’s see. We think it’s two-ply paper, right?” 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. “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?”

“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.”



People We Hate 3

“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.





commentary: First of all: Best Title Ever. Apparently Ginder was on the way home from a wedding celebration, on a train with a group of friends, and one of them opened a bottle of wine and said ‘People we hated at the wedding: Go’. I hope he has since given the friend a bottle of champagne.

I  bought the book on the strength of the title, and the opening chapter - the extract above is part of it, long because I found it so hilarious - seemed to justify it. I loved the siblings stalking their sister’s shopping choices: ‘We knew it would cost [that much]. We just wanted to be justified in our disgust.’

Once we get on the wedding trip, heading off for the ceremony in England, the book picks up to become mightily entertaining again, but - how can I put this? - there is 40% of the book in between these two points, and it is dull and all-too-familiar: three characters vary the chapters, they have work problems, difficult relationships, they drink or take drugs too much, they think about past grudges. None of it is new or unfamiliar, it is all carved out from the usual world of modern American novels. The book to me reads as though Ginder had written a modern life novel, then got hold of the wedding idea, and interleaved the two. I think he should have written a much (much) shorter book dealing only with the wedding. I also had a problem with the character whose flaw is that he tells long boring stories. Note to author: don’t tell us the stories, they ARE boring.


People We Hate 1


The later section is much more enjoyable, partly because everyone is very human, full of failings and not terribly likeable. Often that annoys me in a book, but this time it is so wholesale as to be refreshing, and there are some very funny scenes and moments.

I like the casual comments on the characters’ lives and acheivements -
his thesis—an exploration of the use of eating utensils in Jane Austen’s earlier work—remained a constant source of anxiety and wonder for Paul; he could scarcely pick up a fork anymore without thinking of the Bennet sisters.

She had a memoir being released that week (after reading Around the World in Eighty Days in the wake of a messy breakup, she spent a year traveling the world, trying to find eligible men in foreign cities with untapped dating pools, like Accra and Vilnius. She’s still single)
And there is a date for an older couple which I think is an object lesson in what not to do: do not take your potential love interest kayaking in a wetsuit. It is a hilariously horrible worst first date.

There are a few problems with the English setting - I’d love to know at which point on the M4 from Heathrow you can see
A council flat, a dusty cathedral, an old television antenna
No-one in the UK, ever, has ever said ‘There’s a pub about two kilometers down the road’ or ‘You’re going to take a left in about four kilometers’. And young Brits did not read the Hardy Boys as schoolkids.

Also - and this is just a difference, not a problem - in the UK someone with ‘ropy’ arms and legs is someone with pretty bad arms or legs, which is plainly not what Ginder means, he means gym-toned.

I would say to anyone reading this book – if you’re finding it dull or hard-going, then persevere: It will get better. And the funny bits are worth it. 

Disappointingly, there wasn't much about wedding clothes - surely such great possibilities for jokes - so I made do with general pictures. And, if  I hadn’t already known that  modern day weddings were ready for a takedown, wandering round Pinterest looking for the pictures above would have convinced me. However I mean no offence to the happy couples whose photos I have borrowed – all these pictures look tasteful and charming to me.































40 comments:

  1. It does sound a bit uneven, Moira. But the bits you shared really are funny. I can see why you liked the book just on that score. And that title really is fabulous. Yet another examples of how a good editor could make all the difference in the world.

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    1. Exactly, Margot - at it is, you just have to find and enjoy the funny bits. And enjoy that perfect title...

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  2. Still, showing up on our first date to take me kayaking in a wetsuit would be a guarantee I wouldn't waste time on a second date.

    (If I ever write my memoirs, there will be a chapter devoted to strange first dates, including the artillery battery captain who invited me back to his quarters, seated me on the sofa, poured me a drink -- and pulled out a field manual to demonstrate the proper technique for laying a howitzer battery. These memoirs will of course have to wait until the spousal unit is gone).

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    1. Now there's a book I'm longing to read. And yes, good point, kayakman would stop you wasting your time on him.

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  3. I thought the author's name was Grant Grinder, before I cleaned my glasses. A top notch porn star name, if only it were true. I'll pass on this, but I reckon I might have enjoyed it or at least bits of it.

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    1. I know! I had to keep checking and re-spelling his name, it doesn't sound right does it? And good entertainment value but not very noir...

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    2. I do have to say this: I read LOADS of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as a kid in Devon from the mid 1980s on. There were lots of them in the libraries I went to and I remember they were very common to find on people's bookshelves.

      So I do have to take issue with "and young Brits do not read the Hardy Boys as schoolkids" because from my personal experience they absolutely did. Maybe they don't now, but I'd query whether young Americans do either....

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    3. Oh... interesting, Daniel. I felt the reference felt wrong: it was the childhood bedroom of a posh young man, now in finance, probably boarding school education, and a collection of Hardy Boys books didn't seem to fit to me... Now I'm going to have to check with all the chaps I know to see whether I read them or not.
      My US online crime fan friends all have fond memories of Hardy Boys, but you are the first I have heard of on this side...

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    4. Edit not working today! *to see whether THEY read them or not.
      My own son read some - but we were living in the US.

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    5. I read a few Hardy Boys, but Nancy Drew was my poison. I had an old 1930s edition of The Sign of the Twisted Candles with wonderful illustrations that I inherited from an aunt. But Disney filmed a few Hardy Boys stories. They weren't movies; they were TV shows, but not a series. Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine. Loved those!

      Oh, and my idea of ropy arms is the same as yours.

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    6. There's an awful lot of those books isn't there? Which is much of the attraction for children, they like a long series, they don't want to find they've finished an author. I didn't know they'd ever been on screen, but that makes sense.
      Oh, interesting about ropy: we need to do a wider survey!

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    7. I think the Hardy Boys were like Nancy Drew -- there was no one author. There were many (several?) Carolyn Keenes over the years. That certainly helped the series' longevity.

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    8. That makes sense, doesn't it. And perhaps some authors got their start there and went on to make their own names.

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  4. Darn it!! Before I even read the review I was going to comment on the title!! My brother's wedding flashed before my eyes and that was 30 years ago. Maybe a sequel - People We Hate at the Christmas Table?

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    1. I know! We all have our own reaction to that perfect title. And you are so right - a whole series is called for. The People We Hate at a Friend's Birthday Party.

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  5. I do live in the U.S., and I did read a few Hardy Boys, but again agreeing with Paula, Nancy Drew was my addiction for awhile.

    I had a friend when I was 12 and she had a lot of Nancy Drew books. I'd visit when she wasn't home and sit in her room and read them.

    This as at the same time that I discovered reading under the covers with a flashlight until later than I should.

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    1. Oh reading under the bedcovers was a terrible habit of mine: but then sometimes stopping reading (always at an exciting moment) just wasn't feasible, I had to carry on...

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  6. Oh, yes. I would walk down my block reading and always had a book in my hands.

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    1. Yup, me too. You can read anywhere if you put your mind to it...

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  7. The person that I hated at our wedding reception was the DJ. Myself and the wife gave him a list of songs that we hated and didn't want played. Of course he played all of them. Every. Single. One. There is a video of our dancing together, all romance, all smiles. You can't hear my wife whispering in my ear "I hate this ####### song!" and me replying "Not as much as I do!"

    I remember a US TV series of HARDY BOYS/NANCY DREW that played on the BBC in the latter part of the '70s, and it would be surprising if this didn't cause some of the books to be reprinted over here. They might not have reached the continuing levels of popularity over here that they enjoyed in the USA because we had similar series in this country. Off hand I recall ROGER MOORE'S CRIMEBUSTERS (a bunch of kids fight crime with the encouragement/backing of the Bond actor) and THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS (modern day young Sherlock Holmes fans fight crime with no celebrity backer). Even as a kid I could never take these sorts of books entirely seriously, probably because even then I was already dipping into adult crime fiction.

    ggary

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    1. Oh dear, quite right to hate the DJ. Did he get his lists mixed up...?
      No I started reading Agatha Christie too early to be too taken up with YA (as they weren't called then) crime books.

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  8. When I was a teenager I read a lot of literary fiction sprinkled with Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, and a few other mystery writers' books.

    I read some Hercule Poirot books, and then when I was 19, I read an awful description of a Jewish character and also of an immigrant. That turned me off and I've never read another book by her, no matter what merits there may be.

    My non-Irish side of the family fled anti-Jewish pogroms in 1907 czarist Russia. So I thought of my grandparents' tribulations and their fleeing to the States. And I couldn't read any more.

    But I have watched several Poirot movies starring different actors. David Suchet is Poirot and I've enjoyed those.

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  9. I know exactly what you mean. I haven't read any AC in a very long time, and that was one of the things that I was put off by -- quite a lot -- when I did read her. Also, not exclusive to AC, but it irritates me that Irish characters in English books of a certain vintage (some surprisingly recent) were always either low comic figures or villains. It's a pattern that has spoiled some books for me.

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    1. Kathy & Paula: I don't find Christie worse than many other writers of her era. She changed her unthinking views as time went on, and as events unfolded in Europe.

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    2. Glad to hear that. Since you're such a strong Christie booster, and I trust your opinion, I'll have to give her another try. :-)

      This was something I had to adjust to with the first Dandy Gilver I just read, too. But I enjoyed her enough and found her understandable, if not completely sympathetic. But I was more disturbed (no, that's too strong) by the oh so tactful denouement at the end of the book. I had to go to Amazon comments to see if what I thought had happened is what most people thought had happened. Glad I wasn't completely flummoxed!

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    3. I know! You need your wits about you, and she was quite brave to leave it quite like that...

      You might try another Christie - no promises. But if you liked it and there was nothing objectionable, think of all the joy to come!

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    4. These days I can only hope to out-live my to-be-read pile!

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    5. I used always to think 'oh well, it will be good to have plenty of books to read when I am retired', to justify more purchases. Now semi-retirement beckons, and I am still buying books...

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    6. OMG. I thought I'd be decreasing my stacks in retirement instead of growing them. Use me as a bad example.

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    7. Exactly. I should've known better.

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  10. Really? I didn't notice that about Irish characters in English books, but that's really not surprising.

    I saw the actor Liam Neeson on a TV show say that when he moved to England from Ireland, he was mistreated and discriminated against because he was Irish.

    I haven't read enough English books of an older vintage. The ones I read are rather more contemporary.

    If you read Tana French's book, "The Trespasser," an excellent book, a character in Dublin gets upset when she finds out she has some English heritage. It's done very well, with wit.

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    1. Love Tana French.

      I think it's something (the Irish thing) I noticed once early on and then kept seeing because I was aware of it. It's probably not as pronounced as it seems, but I do notice it.

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    2. I have a strong Irish heritage, and the British/Irish relationship is complex, and always has been!

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  11. Well, I had great-grandparents whom I never knew One was Irish, the other English. They were the immigrants to the U.S. on my gather's mother's side of the family.

    So, one was Catholic, the other Protestant. They fought every day, saying the "Irish," "English," "Catholic," or "Protestant" was going to hell. But when one died after 50 years of this, the other was very depressed.

    About Agatha Christie, I had read that she changed her views about Jewish people, but the writer Christopher Hitchens, who visited her a few years before her death said that the air in her house was permeated with anti-Semitism. So I'm just saying that she may not have changed as much as many think she did.

    It's probably true that she reflected the views of some at the time. John Lawton wrote an incredible essay about the anti-Semitism in the British establishment, politicians and among the wealthy.

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  12. Second line: should be "my father's mother's side of the family."

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    1. Mmm. Christopher Hitchens never one to underplay what he wanted to say. I very much liked him as a person, and admired much of his writing, but I used to work with him, and you couldn't always go to the bank on what he said. He liked his drama. Christie entertained a huge amount, had many friends who visited her house a lot, stayed long periods with her, but I have never heard anyone else say that. If it was really 'permeated with anti-Semitism' then I think someone else would have noticed. I tended to agree with about 75% of what he said, but the other 25% was really peculiar at times. He is much missed.

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  13. I am not endorsing what Hitchens said in general. He was for a lot of things I oppose, such as the Iraq war.

    I just thought it was interesting that he said that. I'll look on the Internet to see if anyone else said anything about this.

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    1. Yes, I think we feel exactly the same! I wasn't going to mention the Iraq war. He also reported on a private, off-the-record conversation in order to stir up trouble, in a way I could not think justifiable.

      But yes, interesting, please share anything you find.

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  14. Ok. I found an article in the New Yorker about her bigotry.

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    1. Can you send me the link?
      I just read an article by Joan Acocello about Christie, in the New Yorker, which I thought was ridiculous. For example she says that in Christie the young romantic couple are never guilty: this is completely untrue, as any reliable Christie reader can tell you - it is one of the things that makes her stand out from her contemporaries. (I could name you several cases without having to think at all.)
      She accuses Christie of bigotry on the grounds that someone serves a pudding with a name that would no longer be acceptable: this is ridiculous - the pudding did exist. In my house we had a cookbook with a recipe for it - does that make us bigots? How many American books would have contained that word in the same era? Was Mark Twain a racist because he used the word?
      I thought the article was dire, and was very disappointed in the New Yorker. The woman seemed to be relying on very unreliable memories of reading some of the books a long time ago.

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