Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Is Ellen Sussman's A Wedding in Provence Romantic? Yep, but It's A Whole Bunch More

Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, is quoted at the top of Ellen Sussman's new book.  About A Wedding in Provence, she says:  "Utterly charming and wildly romantic."  No offense to Christina, but she grossly undersells Wedding.  This book is yes charming, and it is yes romantic.  But it's also extremely poignant.  I certainly teared up many times through the course of the book - until the last 40 pages.  And then I basically bawled until the end.  Not surprised, you say?  Fair enough.  But this one hit me harder than most.  Here's the storyline from our good friends at Goodreads:

What could be more idyllic than a wedding in Provence? That's what Olivia and Brody think when they invite their closest friends and family to spend their wedding weekend with them. But when Olivia's older daughter from her first marriage invites a man she met on the plane to join her, the delicate balance of the entire weekend is upset. Soon Olivia's best friend, the owner of the inn who is hosting the wedding, discovers that her husband has cheated on her. Then Brody's mother shows up without his father, who has gone into hiding. How can one choose love in the midst of chaos? Told from the point of view of Olivia and her two daughters, A Wedding in Provence is a moving novel about love, trust, secrets and family.

As you can see, the story is told from the viewpoint of the bride and her 2 daughters. Olivia is 55, and her daughters, Nell and Carly, are 28 and 26.  They are San Francisco women.  Nell, an actress, has always been free and footloose.  Carly, a high tech executive, is just the opposite - focused and highly successful.  Are they close?  What do they learn, if anything, about relationships and themselves?  And then there's Olivia's fiancee, Brody, who is a cowboy and veterinarian from Wyoming.  How does he relate to Olivia's girls and will he be able to adjust to living in San Francisco?  There is really a lot going on here and a ton of intermingled relationships - which I think is a good thing. 

In addition to the 3 women and Brody, there are all of these people:

Jake, Brody's best friend and the officiant for the wedding
Fanny, Brody's mother, a no-nonsense ranch hand who still lives in Wyoming and who just had her husband of 55 years walk out on her
Gavin, a guy that Nell met on the airplane and who comes with her to the wedding
Emily, Olivia's best friend since college at Cal (my alma mater, I say proudly), who married a Frenchman and who owns an inn in the South of France (the venue for the wedding)
Sebastien, Emily's husband, and the co-owner of the inn
Paolo, the chef for the weekend

And then there are those who don't come to the wedding:

Wes, Carly's live-in, workplace boyfriend, who was too busy to come to the wedding
Sam, Brody's father and Fanny's husband, the former doctor who is living by himself, away from his family and civilization
Chaney, Nell's former live-in boyfriend, who killed himself 6 months earlier
Lilian, Chaney's mom, who we only meet for 4 pages, but who(m?) I connected with in a big way

Why am I listing all of these people, including the 4 that weren't even there (we know that Chaney certainly wasn't there!)?  Because they all matter.  Ellen made me care about every one of them.  Some more than others, to be sure.  But all at least a little.  That is a rare occurrence for me and, probably, for most people.  Every novel typically has a throwaway character or 2.  Not this one.  It reminds me of Jonathan Tropper's This Is When I Leave You.  I cared about all of those people too.  What can I say?  When it's done well, it's pretty darn special.

I feel honored that Ellen is VHOB Book Club's August author.  She will be at our new store on August 20 at 7:15 to answer questions and sign books.  If you get a chance to read it by then, please come on down (our club discusses the book from 6:30-7:15 before Ellen arrives).  If you don't have a chance to read it before August 20, come on down anyway. I guarantee that you will be happy to have a chance to meet such an accomplished author and teacher (ask Keith Raffel what kind of teacher she is) as Ellen Sussman.

GENRES - GRRRR:  We've still got the genre issues for this book.  The title makes you think it's chick lit, women's fiction, up-market fiction - whatever the heck you want to call it. But it is no such thing.  Is every book with a strong female protagonist just for women?  Is every book with a strong male protagonist just for men?  The whole think makes me mad. But, hey, I'm just one reviewer.  How can I fight the publishing industry?...I'll get back to you on that.


  1. I love the setting and I love books that make you feel emotions like that. This sounds like a must read!

  2. I have to admit that I was a little worried about the setting. I didn't know if I would enjoy it as much because it was in the South of France and not at "home." My concern was totally unfounded. It actually turned out to be an enhancement. Go figure.