The Accidental Bride
by Janice Harayda
(St. Martin's, $22.95, G) ISBN 0-312-20357-8
**
If you reside within a 50-mile radius of New York City and can't imagine making your home anywhere else, you will probably appreciate The Accidental Bride. But if you live anywhere else, specifically the Midwest, and even more specifically near Cleveland, Ohio, you will have to fight the urge to throw the book against the wall. But I guess Janice Harayda isn't really worried about your reaction, because she assumes that Midwesterners are too dumb to read.

It's a shame, because the book started with a great deal of promise. Ms. Harayda is obviously a devotee of Jane Austen. Her opening paragraph suggests a witty comedy of manners, a gentle satire on modern weddings:

One month before her wedding to the third richest man in the second largest city in Ohio, Lily Blair awoke in the middle of the night and realized that she did not want to get married. This turn of events did not faze her mother, who regarded brief lapses of sanity as inevitable among young women on the brink of matrimony.

Lily was born and raised in Ohio, but escaped to New York as soon as possible, where she pursued a journalism career. She returned home when her job situation appeared tenuous, but planned to work at the local newspaper for only a short time. Then she met attorney Mark Slayton, and after a whirlwind, 3-month courtship, they became engaged. Now Lily has extremely cold feet, despite the fact that Mark is rich, handsome, funny, sweet and attentive. Lily fears that she is only marrying Mark because of strong social pressure, and that if she follows through and lives the rest of her life in Ohio, she will wither and die.

Unfortunately, no one wants to hear of Lily's doubts. Mark is away in California working on a case and her mother is in total denial. As Lily struggles with her decision, the wedding machine marches on inexorably, through seating arrangements, bridal fittings, wedding photographs and thank you notes. When Mark returns to Ohio, Lily has to decide if she can tell this decent, honorable man that she can't marry him. But is it too late to stop the wedding march? Can Lily find a way to be happy and keep Mark?

As long as The Accidental Bride lampoons the wedding process, it is an entertaining gentle satire. For example, in the first chapter, Lily watches her mother planning seating arrangements

Her mother moved several more rectangles from one circle to another. Frowning, she studied the result as though she were Gary Kasparov contemplating an unsettling variation on the Sicilian defense.

But all too soon the author's prejudice about the innate superiority of New Yorkers becomes blazingly clear.

Lily loved New York and had returned to Colony Heights only because her current employer, The Daily Rectifier, had recruited her when her New York paper was rumored to be about to fold. At that vulnerable moment, she convinced herself that unemployment might be worse than going back to a city in which a councilman's wife once turned down an invitation to the White House because it conflicted with her cha-cha lessons. So she had shelved her misgivings about working for a paper whose name reflected that bizarre form of Midwestern optimism that cast anything short of a nuclear holocaust as a temporary setback.

The same theme is repeated ad nauseum throughout the novel. Ohio is a vast cultural wasteland where everyone is sports-obsessed, corn dogs are the cuisine of choice, the feminist movement is dead and the only weekend activities are ladies' oil wrestling and Bauxite Night at the Rock Museum. New York is the oasis where Girl Power reigns supreme and even the street people are charming. When, late in the novel, Lily's fiance claims that Midwestern children are spoiled and disruptive, while New York City children are decorous and well-behaved, I dropped the book in disgust.

Lest you think I am a humorless Midwestern native, let me say that a) I lived on the East Coast for more than 30 years until my recent move to St. Louis and b) the author's press materials clearly state her distaste for Cleveland. This is more than satire; it's geographic assassination. And I consider myself a feminist, but I don't believe that marriage to a great guy is tantamount to a lifetime jail sentence.

Harayda's attempt to compare smug, spoiled whiner Lily to a Jane Austen heroine is ludicrous. I couldn't empathize with a woman who could turn down a man who sends unsolicited love letters based on Marriage of Figaro. I didn't buy Lily's assertion that she was being pressured into marriage because it was the "only game" in a town as conservative as Cleveland. And I did wonder why such a wonderful guy wanted to marry such a bitch.

So The Accidental Bride gets one big, loud raspberry from me. Undoubtedly the author, who is now safely living in the New York area after serving her sentence in Cleveland, will be the toast of her oh-so-cosmopolitan girlfriends, but the rest of the country can resoundingly say, "Get a clue!"

--Susan Scribner


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