Book Review: “Save The Date” Tells A Story, Wedding By Wedding

June 11, 2014

“Save The Date,” a collection of essays published last month by Brooklyn author Jen Doll, is a compelling and beautiful book. It resonates deeply — or at least, it does for me, a 28-year old woman living in Brooklyn who is starting to attend the wave of weddings that will no doubt continue for at least the next 10 years.

As the book begins, Jen points out that “The wedding isn’t the thing; it’s what comes after that’s truly important, yet the wedding is our focus, the vehicle chosen to represent a couple’s love and the guests’ love for that couple.” She goes on to detail 17 weddings that she’s attended over the course of her young adulthood, and they are achingly familiar.

I haven’t been to nearly as many weddings as Jen has. Post-college, I’ve been to 6. I’ve been a bridesmaid once, at a wedding that I will simply classify as a shitshow, and not in the fun way. I’ve been the only one to get drunk at a wedding attended with co-workers, thus earning myself the office nickname “crumbly” after eating the wedding-favor cookie in the backseat of the car driving me home, and spewing crumbs everywhere (in my defense, the cookie was kind of stale). I’ve been someone’s date twice, with a boyfriend who I can see, in hindsight, was everything I didn’t want. I’ve been to a wedding at which I spilled red wine all over my dress (an obvious consequence of dancing while holding a glass of red wine, it turns out). And I’ve been to a few nice ones: weddings where I didn’t drink too much and didn’t feel too much and left appropriately happy and sated. But those, of course, are in the minority.

I have many more weddings to go to — one, in fact, next weekend, and two coming up in the fall. My birthday falls on Colombus Day weekend, which is a perfect autumnal wedding date, and I’ve begrudgingly accepted that I will  most likely be attending a wedding on my birthday weekend for many years to come. But it’s ok. As Jen points out, weddings have been a part of life for a long, long time.

In “Save The Date,” Jen tells honest tales of the weddings she’s attended. Some are really embarrassing — embarrassing in a comforting way, because I know that I, too, have drunkenly yelled at friends and made out with strangers and woken up confused, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Others are sweet (the courthouse wedding she attends is particularly so) and still others feel sad, like the wedding of a friend whose choice of husband she could not condone. But they’re all soaked entirely in that wedding feeling that we’ve come to know so well, “we” being anyone who’s ever attended a wedding. It’s an event, and it means something, not only to the bride and groom, but to everyone attending. A wedding highlights certain aspects of each attendee’s life.

Jen’s book is hilarious and sometimes sad, but always entertaining. What I admire most is her honesty — even in the memoir category, it is not often that someone publishes a truly honest account. The humor comes organically, not because she’s skewed her stories to be especially funny; likewise, the embarrassment and sadness ring true. Weddings have been an important ritual for centuries, and thus examining one life as it is lived wedding by wedding is kind of genius. It’s like Four Weddings and a Funeral, but a million times better (and I like that movie, guys).

There is no perfect, happy ending to the book, even though we do see Jen meet someone new and exciting and begin to explore that relationship. But it ends ambiguously, because it’s not a love story. It’s a story about love in many ways, but ultimately it’s a story about living and figuring it out bit by bit, as all good stories are.

Jen writes: “We all make mistakes — the real mistake is not admitting that. Whether we’ve too harshly judged a friend for the person she’s chosen to marry, or we’ve gotten drunk and done something we later deeply regret, or we’ve, perhaps, mistaken a person who was only good for us for the moment for our ‘forever person,’ none of us is perfect, just as there is no ‘perfect day’… The best we can do is is try to learn and keep moving forward, to know ourselves better and be a little bit better every day, every wedding. And, if necessary, sometimes to say we’re sorry.”

I don’t know about you, but I cried small, happy tears into my glass of red wine as I read that. That’s right: this book is best consumed alongside a glass of wine, while sitting next to a window and feeling the world outside. LIFE! It’s all happening here.

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