SEATING ARRANGEMENTS, by Maggie Shipstead, is a witty, satirical, slightly bumpy ride down a perfectly kept white shell drive. This well crafted novel, whose plot launches us into a tangled exposé of the inner workings of a New England family, humors us while showing the dark underbelly of a three day weekend involving a sunset wedding, lobsters by the dozen, a pregnant bride, many a gin cocktail, embroidered pants a plenty, and casual infidelity. Set on a Nantucket like island, Seating Arrangements shifts perspectives between Winn: husband, father, patriarch, Biddy: wife, mother, matriarch, Daphne: eldest daughter, bride, expectant mother, and Livia: youngest daughter, maid of honor, and broken hearted lover as they struggle to maintain normalcy as the wedding weekend spirals beyond control. Winn is tempted by a leggy bridesmaid, Livia sets off to mend her broken heart only to have it smashed again, while Daphne and Biddy, calm eyes in the hurricane, quietly and stoically mend the damage. This is indeed a book that demonstrates, once and for all, that WASPs don’t actually have it all.
The talented author, Maggie Shipstead, hails from Orange County, gained her MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and was awarded the Stegner Fellowship from Standford. She graduated with an undergraduate degree from Harvard, and it would appear that while there she learned a thing or two about what goes on “back East” behind the closed doors of the most exclusive boarding schools, the old Nantucket estates, and the esteemed townhouses in Boston’s Back Bay. Born in 1983, Maggie Shipstead is not yet 30. She has sailed past the goal posts into a small collection of writers who are young, very talented, and ambitious. She has been published in Tin House, VQR, and Glimmer Train, and her short story, Cowboy Tango, was included in the 2009 Best American Short Stories. In the coming years, keep your eye out for her next book, which she claims, according to her Twitter feed, is about ballet dancers. But for now, read Cowboy Tango, buy Seating Arrangements, and get ready. Maggie Shipstead is a woman to watch.