Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead's smart and frothy debut novel, is set on a perfect John Cheever island—the kind where old-money families gather to drink gin and nurture loyalties. Beneath the surface of this summery romp, however, lie animosities, well-paced sexual suspense and a clash between appearances and authenticity…. Frequent shifts in point of view give the book a waltzlike rhythm, with beats of startling beauty.
Dylan Landis — New York Times Book Review
At just 28 years old, Shipstead captures the bride's forlorn sister in all her wounded disappointments…What's more surprising is Shipstead's unnerving insight into the comic-tragedy of middle-aged men, that mixture of smothered envy, aspiration and lust that mutates into irritated superiority…. The sea breeze blowing through Seating Arrangements is Shipstead's affection for these spoiled people, her tender handling of their sorrows and longings, which you'll respond to even if you don't summer on Nantucket. She's already producing the kind of humane comedy we expect from Richard Russo and Elinor Lipman…. Shipstead's weave of wit and observation continually delights.
Ron Charles - Washington Post
This is one of those rare debut novels that neither forsakes plot for language nor language for plot. It is gratifying on every scale…. The novel is teeming with the sort of casual philosophizing that encourages passage-underlining and earnest recommendation.”
Seating Arrangements delightfully and poignantly upends the WASP idyll, poking holes into the studiously shabby carpets to reveal the limitations of a privileged world that revolves around the same plummy prep-school pedigrees, club memberships and summer havens…through prose that sparkles while it slays.
This debut answers the question of whether the rich are different from you and me. The answer is yes, because we wouldn't be caught dead in slacks with whales embroidered on them. Like so many recent movie comedies, the novel takes us into the home—and then the summer home—of a wealthy New England family in the days leading up to a daughter's wedding. We have misbehaving bridesmaids and the bumbling father of the bride, who, in this case, is lusting after one of the bridesmaids. Oh, and the bride is seven months pregnant. But never mind that, her father is beside himself because he can't get a membership in the local country club. The characters are an accumulation of over-the-top WASP-like traits: Harvard educations, social clubs, old money, bigotry, family secrets, and funny nicknames like Winn and Biddy. Shipstead's yeoman prose describes the family's mishaps in cinemagraphic detail. Verdict: A hilarious, if somewhat tasteless, escapist read.—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
Zestful yet acerbic…for all its madcap quirkiness, Shipstead’s adroit escapade artfully delivers a poignant reflection on the enduring if frustrating nature of love, hope, and family.
New England blue bloods suffer through three days of wedding festivities in Shipstead's debut, a bleak comedy of manners—think a modern-day Edith Wharton on downers. Winn Van Meter (Deerfield, Harvard), a banker apparently oblivious to the recession, and his stoic wife Biddy (ancestors on the Mayflower) are throwing a wedding for daughter Daphne (Deerfield, Princeton).... The one outsider, bridesmaid Dominique (Deerfield, U. of Mich., but Egyptian!!), observes their escapades with a jaundiced eye. Despite Shipstead's flair for language and scene setting, her characters are worse than cartoonishly unlikable—they are, with the exception of Dominique, yawn-provokingly uninteresting.
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