When I was immersed in the Stella Prize 2017 longlist, every book I picked up was about grief. It was all rather glum and I needed something fluffy to provide balance. Hence Galt Nierderhoffer’s novel, The Romantics.
There’s a film by the same name (Nierderhoffer also wrote the screenplay) – I quite liked the movie, which is why I have the book.
Anyhoo, it’s basically the story of a bunch of friends who have an entwined dating history.
“By graduation, all but a few had slept with one another. Tom dated Laura before dating Lila; Oscar dated Weesie before dating Annie… This amorous behavior earned the clique a nickname from their fellow students. They were dubbed ‘the Romantics’ as a nod to their incessant intra-dating and their byzantine incestuous history.”
It’s the Tom/ Laura/ Lila bit that causes the shit to hit the fan. Laura and Lila are ‘best friends’ (read: Laura now hates Lila’s guts); Laura is still in love with Tom; Tom is marrying Lila; Lila has asked Laura to be her maid-of-honour.
“There was always this moment between the two friends when they reunited, this process of resistance and submission. First, Laura acknowledged the bile and bitterness she had harbored toward Lila since she’d seen her last. Then, Lila welcomed Laura back into her thrall with seeming obliviousness to Laura’s treachery. Finally, Laura cursed herself for harboring such hateful feelings and, embarrassed by her quickness to yield, converted hatred into resentment.”
On the downside, it’s a story about privileged white adults behaving like privileged white brats (and because of this, most of the characters blur). Also, the constant references to Laura’s Jewish heritage are over-played.
On the upside, the portrayal of Laura and Lila’s ‘frenemy’ relationship was well done. Equally good was the character of Augusta, Lila’s pretentious mother.
‘Laura, don’t you look wonderful,’ said Augusta. She indulged in a shameless head-to-toe scan. The subtlety of her grammar was not lost on Laura. The compliment was, of course, posed as a question. But worse yet, the question was, in fact, code for something else. ‘Don’t you look wonderful?’ actually meant ‘Have you lost a little weight?’
Although it’s not a romantic story, this book basically does what it says on the wrapper. If you want a more challenging (and funny) New England wedding story, go for Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.
At the rehearsal dinner, guests dine on an ordinary salad.
“Once again, Augusta fought a surge of rage. Kathy McDevon had skimped on the menu. Flimsy iceberg lettuce drizzled with blue cheese chunks and thawing cherry tomatoes was well-known among club members as the yacht club’s budget option.”
Instead, try a classic wedge salad (I love these but you rarely find them on a menu in Australia).