There’s a billboard on I-75 near my house that reads “Loved the wedding. Invite me to the marriage. - God” It’s a terrific, and succinct, commentary on the common focus of The Wedding as the important event in a young woman’s life. Who cares if the bride and groom know how to settle an argument or make a budget? As long as the wedding is fit for a princess, everything’s rosy. Once Upon a Wedding suffers from the same over-focus, and here it’s done to death in conversation to boot.
Camille Delonga has no sooner attended the planned-to-a-T wedding of her friend’s daughter than her own daughter, Jordan, springs a surprise on her: she’s engaged. And she wants a nice, albeit not too expensive, wedding. Camille wonders how she’ll pay for it all. As a metal sculptor, she’s self-sufficient, but hardly wealthy. Her ex-husband, Creed, hasn’t been heard from in over a year. Rosemary, her mother, is now living with her after cancer surgery.
Camille plunges in and begins wedding preparations. Rosemary, a superb seamstress, offers to create Jordan’s wedding dress, which Jordan reluctantly accepts. Then Creed shows up, having been summoned by Jordan, and he and Camille can’t deny they are still attracted to one another. Meanwhile, Camille’s pal Bridget, having spent the better part of a year creating the wedding of her daughter’s dreams (and taking out a second or third mortgage to do so) is thrown for a loop when her husband asks for a divorce.
And they talk. Boy, do they talk. The majority of this book is conversation, often choppy, sometimes hard to follow, and ultimately revealing little about these people. Camille talks to Bridget, to Rosemary, to Jordan, to Creed, and they all talk to each other, and frankly, it’s dull. Much of the talk is about the never-ending details of the wedding. Reception hall, cake, dresses, brandy snifters, flowers, decorations … Camille is on a mission and willingly lets the wedding plans snowball, and it’s not a fun ride for the reader. Part of the reason is that Camille comes across as a humorless, tightly-wrapped, controlling sort of person who is sure she knows what’s best. Jordan is little more than a young girl wrapped up in the fairytale wedding fantasy, with little depth to her character, so their mother-daughter exchanges boil down to Camille steamrollering over Jordan with her ideas and Jordan sniping back at her. Who cares?
Rosemary, the grandmother looking her own mortality in the eye and determined to make a final gesture of remembrance (and the choice of her name will not be lost on readers), is by far the most interesting character. She at least has humor and self-deprecation, which is more than self-absorbed Jordan and I’m sure I-know-what’s-best Camille have. Her attempts to inject a note of reason into the whole wedding preparation thing is poignant.
As for Creed, he’s pretty much standard stuff. He’s a singer in a band, works construction on the side, and split up with Camille twelve years ago. He’s also Indian, though little is made of this other than his family lives on the reservation. At the end of the story, I still had no idea why they’d split up, much less why they wanted to get back together. The chemistry between them is pretty much nonexistent. Even their conversations are uninteresting.
Perhaps this book was meant as a satire on the wedding industry. Or perhaps Kathleen Eagle wrote it right after planning a wedding herself and was still wrapped up in the details. But it doesn’t work as satire, as there’s no bite to it - these women take this stuff seriously. As for readers, endless talk about thousand-dollar wedding cakes and whether willow vines can create just the right look for decorations may appeal to few. The book was a struggle to finish.
Now, a caveat or two. Call me Scrooge, but I’ve never been impressed with parents who put their houses into hock to give a twenty-year-old a fifty-thousand-dollar wedding, and this book celebrates all that I find distasteful about the wedding industry: the excessive focus on minutiae like party favors, cake tasting, and color schemes rather than on two people planning to make a lifetime commitment. (“I want my wedding day to be just perfect, Mother, or I will just die!”) What could have been a great story of ex-lovers finding their way back to each other, framed by the ludicrous specter of a wedding gone out of control, is here only a lost opportunity. But if you are more into the “fantasy wedding” scenario, you may find Once Upon a Wedding to be much more your cup of tea.