A Wedding in December is one of Anita Shreve’s more ambitious and risky novels to date. Several former high school friends are reuniting decades later for a weekend at a quaint western Massachusetts inn. There are lots of personal demons to be wrestled with, and each person wonders about the good and bad memories that will be recollected by the gathering.
The December, 2001 wedding is that of Bill and Bridget. They were sweethearts in school who married other people. They’re together again, with Bridget’s cancer diagnosis reprioritizing their lives. This bittersweet situation paired with a tragedy that happened in school, force these classmates to examine their own mortality internally while celebrating the nuptials externally.
Under a less experienced writer, this familiar reunion concept would fail. Accomplished author Anita Shreve takes a risk with this premise and pulls it off successfully. The story takes place within a weekend. Shreve fills those days deftly. It is easy to understand the characters and their purpose. The weekend is neither too long nor too short under Shreve’s experienced hand.
There is another work of fiction within A Wedding in December. One of the characters is writing a novel as well based on the early 20th century Halifax disaster. That small story is also engaging. Shreve parallels the Halifax tragedy with 9/11, with which these characters are still coming to grips. Occasionally these two stories draw attention away from each other. Reading the mini Halifax story means that less pages are devoted to the present day characters and vice versa. This is not a complaint as much as a wish to know more about both stories.
A Wedding in December is not your basic reunion-attendees-confront-their-past novel. There are some personality clichés, but the choices made and paths created by the characters are real. Shreve takes a familiar premise and made it different, readable and unique.