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Wednesday, May 30, 2007 04:38 am

The comet, not the tail

Altared looks at weddings from 26 perspectives

Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think About Contemporary Weddings Edited by Colleen Curran (Vintage, May 2007, 384 pp., $13.95)
Untitled Document Here’s a curious book for June: 26 personal essays on weddings — and, occasionally, nonweddings. They touch on such subjects as plans, preparations, etiquette, gift registries, the dress, the budget, and more, including “Should you have sex on your wedding night?” (Conclusion: You’re exhausted and you’ve already had it anyway, unless you’re buying a pig in a poke.)
I intended to take just a glance at this book but got caught in its vortex, as most of the writers describe their being swept, many against their will, into the huge contemporary wedding industry — $72 billion spent annually in this country, with the average wedding costing roughly $27,000. These accounts, all by women, are uniformly well written. Each bride has impressive credentials: published books, editorships, freelancing for prestigious magazines. Such activities become peripheral when the Wedding looms. Also, most have been written while the Day and its joys (sometimes horrors) are still fresh; few contributors have been married long. Understandably, they are mostly young — late twenties or getting up in the thirties, biological clocks ticking. Not so understandable is why almost all are located on the East Coast. One of the two best essays, though, is from Madison, Wis. — the bride’s four children participated in the ceremony, and in the few years since the couple has had three more. The most moving, most beautifully told, is “Father of the Bride,” in which the beloved father dies several months before the wedding. Although there is some variety in the events — one author has a bridal Web site on which she urges individuality, until she herself becomes the bride — most turn out pretty traditional, with mothers wanting the white dress, and who can go against Mother? There’s investment in the myths and customs. In spite of the Christian, Jewish, and mixed themes, I found the weddings merging into one, and I noted a sameness of writing styles. What about weddings not depicted? True, there’s a lesbian ceremony, as well as an arranged wedding. But a friend of mine, old by this book’s standards, will have her first nuptials in a backyard biracial wedding. Last spring I attended a quiet Buddhist ceremony. A third friend, recently married at 50, brought several dogs and three screaming macaws to the partnership, though not to the service, and the groom is providing teenage daughters, so his bride is frantically learning step-parenting skills. And we really should hear from those parents, struggling with the budget and the seating — and from a groom.
The book’s effect on the reader is inevitable. You’ll find yourself mulling the powerful customs, myths, and promises you bought into, and why, and their long-term validity; your own nuptials, or the wedding you never had; your kids’ weddings (or lack thereof), as well as certain friends’ and family’s — but mainly you’ll be constantly aware of the “comet’s tail,” scarcely mentioned in the book but so much greater than the comet: the aftermath; your life as married or unmarried or, if it came to that, divorced; your children’s lives, your parents’ lives. These are long thoughts that span all months, thoughts you may or may not care to ponder.

Jacqueline Jackson, books and poetry editor of Illinois Times, is a professor emerita of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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