The Wedding Writer
You know it's Chick Lit because: (a) The word wedding appears in the title (this is not always a giveaway --- think Carson McCullers --- but it's usually a clue); (b) The cover is pink, with a picture of high heels; and (c) The main character's name is Lucky.
But it is smart Chick Lit: witty, bordering on satirical, and genuinely touching. And I'm not saying that just because I know the author, a friend and colleague from my own editorial days and a nuptial insider who has worked on wedding glossies for a decade. Susan Schneider has created a fictional magazine, Your Wedding, that is so thoroughly imagined that I wouldn't be surprised to see it at my local newsstand.
It's easy to ridicule wedding magazines, bridezillas, the whole elaborate cakewalk of getting married. Although Schneider's novel offers plenty of critical perspective, it also has, well, heart.
Readers may or may not know that magazine editing is a lot like show business. Hirings and firings, redesigns and reinventions happen with some regularity, the key variables being circulation figures and ad sales. THE WEDDING WRITER dives right into one such crisis. Leigh "Lucky" Quinn is promoted to editor-in-chief of Your Wedding,while Grace Ralston, who hired and mentored her, is fired. For the first 80 pages or so, chapters alternate between Lucky's point of view (guilt and exhilaration) and Grace's (depression and hair loss). Then two more voices are added: Sara, the longtime fashion editor (unmarried with sisters), and the art director, Felice (married with one sullen adolescent child). As they grapple with conflicts about the content of their work and the quality of their lives (marriage vs. singlehood, kids or not, career vs. friendship, flat shoes or heels), we get to know and care about each of them.
Which is to say that Schneider largely avoids stereotypes, normally the bane of genre writing. Grace is not some crass, manipulative harpy, nor is Lucky a feminist heroine. Abdul, Grace's limo driver, turns out to be a lot more than a handsome face at the wheel, and the junior editors and assistants at Your Wedding are crisply and memorably drawn. I loved Grace's gay daughter and her partner (whose wedding is the only real live matrimonial event in the novel). There are a few purely noxious characters, but they are mostly corporate types like Jeff, the sleazy publisher of Your Wedding, who predictably wants more than a business relationship with Lucky.
Writing good light fiction is always a balancing act between entertainment and substance. Schneider's book is not MADAME BOVARY, but at times it has surprising depth. The chapter in which Lucky goes home for Christmas is a tense, poignant encounter between a newly successful urban woman and her unstylish, borderline desperate family. Felice's torturous relationship with her difficult teenage son is also handled remarkably well.
I must say, though, that I found Sara and Felice less compelling than the other protagonists. I understand why Schneider wanted to include their voices: to represent different kinds of women as well as to dramatize the loyalty issues that arise in a transition from old regime to new. But I don't think they are nearly as strong or complex as Grace and Lucky. Just listen to Grace on her age: "She's merely fifty-one. Fifty-two, actually. Fifty-threeish, to be perfectly honest, till her next birthday, when she turns, oh God, fifty-six." The timing is impeccable.
Equally so is Schneider's detailed peek at her slice of media society. From roaches in the office to sunburns on photo shoots, vertiginous heels to pricey haircuts, she conjures a harsh, glossy world in which every magazine --- and every editor --- is trying to survive. Especially in Lucky's encounters with the corporate hierarchy, Schneider gives us a wickedly funny take on the opportunistic numbers-crunching of magazine executives and their henchmen (henchwoman, in this case: the unforgettable Nadia Milosovici, "aka the Axe Lady, the company's bass-voiced HR autocrat, who reaches no higher than the clavicles of even her shortest coworkers...").
THE WEDDING WRITER's drama is also an accurate commentary on the way economic crisis and the "new" media have affected women's magazines. Grace resists the Internet, convinced it means the death of taste; Lucky expands the magazine's online presence and starts a reality-TV show. Under Grace, the traditionalist, Your Wedding's tagline on the cover was The Bridal Classic. Lucky wants to change that to Brides Go Shopping, an all-too-plausible indication of how much magazines are now given over to marketing. Many Chick Lit novels, in fact, drop brand names so relentlessly that one suspects product placement. Schneider, to her credit, doesn't clobber readers with designer merchandise. She hits us with a Louboutin here, a Vera Wang there, as needed.
It's easy to ridicule wedding magazines, bridezillas, the whole elaborate cakewalk of getting married. Although Schneider's novel offers plenty of critical perspective, it also has, well, heart. "The best [wedding stories] give me a good cry," Grace tells Lucky. "A refreshing catharsis. Weddings assure us all's right with the world." THE WEDDING WRITER manages to avoid cheap shots, on the one hand, and sentimental formulas on the other. Schneider has real affection both for the women who put out the magazines and the brides who swear by them, and it shows.
I hope we get a chance to take another stroll down the aisle with Lucky and Grace. I miss them already.
Reviewed by Kathy Weissman on June 14, 2011
The Wedding Writer
- Publication Date: June 7, 2011
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
- ISBN-10: 0312676603
- ISBN-13: 9780312676605