How (Not) To Have a Perfect Wedding, by Arliss Ryan

It wouldn’t be smart to give Arliss Ryan’s novel How (Not) To Have a Perfect Wedding to anyone planning to get married in the near future. Ryan’s book (which she based on her experiences as a professional wedding hostess) is witty, well-written, and occasionally touching, but she ruthlessly strips every last drop of glamour and romance from the wedding experience.

How (Not) To Have a Perfect Wedding focuses on a quarter-of-a-million-dollar wedding being held in a historic Newport mansion. The story is told from dozens of different points of view, allowing everyone from the groom to the assistant bartender to weigh in on the festivities. Servers gossip about the guests, guests complain about their seating arrangements, the mother of the bride seethes over her ex’s new trophy wife, and the indomitable bride-to-be is hell-bent on achieving her dream wedding... even if her fiancée is a little hazy about what happened during his bachelor party.

Ryan’s use of multiple first-person narratives makes nearly all of her characters sympathetic. The chapters featuring the mansion employees paint the female members of the wedding party as demanding shrews, but things change when the same events are seen from the bride and her mother’s perspectives. While their actions are still off-putting, the reasoning behind their behavior becomes clear. Even the bride’s father, a sixty-something doctor with a twenty-two-year-old wife, feels like a real person (an icky, selfish person, sure, but a fully three-dimensional one).

How (Not) To Have a Perfect Wedding is a sharply written, deliciously gossipy slice-of-life novel, guaranteed to be enjoyed by readers whose weddings are either in the distant future or safely behind them. But if you’re in the process of planning a wedding, you might want to give this book a pass—Ryan’s Rashomon-inspired portrait of feuding relatives, drunken friends, contemptuous support staff, and a mismatched bridal couple is bound to terrify even the bravest bride-to-be.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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