If you think We Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman is a soppy or romanticized novel about the perfect wedding you are wrong. No, Jamie Weisman's amazing novel is about the people who have been invited to the wedding, friends of the bride or the bride's family. Their stories are told one by one, each darker and more soul-wrenching than the previous, until I was almost fearful to read the last entry. But that was the story of True Love--not the bride and groom's true love story, but that of a haunted elderly lady and the broken man who saves her.
The bride's father is a ruthless man. "Every man wanted Ida, but I was the one who got her," he thinks about his wife; "A man is judged by the woman with him, and Ida's beauty made me more powerful." A stroke leaves him unable to communicate as he watches his business crumble and his daughter marry a non-Jew. He sees life as a "brutal and exhausting gallop through a desert populated by predators and parasites."
A mother's life work is to care for her son who was born with Muscular Dystrophy. He once spent a week at a camp where the bride was a counselor.
A woman wears her birthmark proudly although she resents not having been born beautiful. "There is no justice in this world," she begins, despairing at the bride's beauty. "What am I without my birthmark?" she questions, dismissing the makeup that can make her look perfect.
A college roommate of the bride's father has drifted in and out of addiction. Drafted during Vietnam, he "didn't love my life enough to make it worth avoiding" the war. "People who go to war are different from everyone else," he thinks.
A man who once got the bride drunk and didn't take advantage of her, but also did not protect her from the other frats, was going to be a heart surgeon before he had a breakdown. The bride disdains him. He wanders from the ceremony.
An elderly lady survived the Holocaust but can't forget the loved ones who did not. She married a kind man and had a decent life, but is still haunted by the past.
Weisman has written so many sentences and pages that I fell in love with and which I wanted to read out loud to anyone in earshot.
I loved the mother of the bride's musings on a life given to her family.
"My friend Rita once said that your children come to you perfect, and the best you can hope for is not to allow too much damage, from yourself first and foremost, and then from the world."
I shuddered at that line. It rang true. I had the same thought when our son was a preschooler, an awareness of all the scars life would lay on his unblemished soul and skin moving me to tears. The mother thinks, there are limitations and childhood wounds which we parents bring with us, inadequacies, and actions that result in regrets.
"They intend to have it all, careers, families, creativity, at least for the lucky few who can afford it," she thinks. The bride appears to be one of those lucky ones.
I am grateful to have won the book on #FridayFreebie on The Quivering Pen blog by author David Abrams.
from the publisher:
One afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia. Two people heading to the altar. One hundred fifty guests. The bride, Elizabeth Gottlieb, proud graduate of the University of Virginia and of Emory University School of Law, member of Atlanta’s wealthy Jewish elite. The groom, Hank Jackson, not a member. Not a Jew. The couple of the hour, however, is beside the point, because We Are Gathered belongs to the guests.
Among them, Carla, Elizabeth’s quick-witted, ugly duckling childhood best friend turned Hollywood film scout, whose jaundiced view of the drama that is an American wedding provides a lens of humor and its corollary, deep compassion for the supporting actors who steal the show; Elizabeth’s great-aunt Rachel, a Holocaust survivor from Germany who is still navigating a no-man’s-land between cultures and identities decades after escaping from the forests of Europe; Elizabeth’s wheelchair-bound grandfather Albert, who considers his legacy as a man, both in the boardroom and the bedroom; and Annette, the mother of the bride herself, reminded now of her youthful indiscretions in love and motherhood.
Balancing razor-sharp humor with a blunt vision of the fragility of our mortal bonds, Jamie Weisman skillfully constructs a world—and family—that pulls you in and carries you along with its refreshing, jagged beauty