Fiction: Here Come the Brides: A Free-Spirited Fictional Wedding

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For Clem, steeped in the slang and high theory of college — wittily captured, though Cohen keeps the satire gentle — this wedding, right after her graduation, is conceived as an act of community theater, a “ritual marrying reality with theatricality.” As, in short, a pageant. Clem, a kind of anarchist bridezilla, welcomes improvisation, inviting various nonbinary friends to come camp out with their dog, their baby, some pot. All of which expresses perfectly the gist of Clem’s senior thesis: “To surrender the ego’s designs to the eternal truth of uncertainty.” Clem’s intended, Diggs, who is African-American, is more ordered in her thinking; to her, Clem’s embrace of chaos is a sign of racial privilege. Meanwhile Bennie, from whose perspective we most often view these events, feels an understandable if mostly suppressed impatience with her daughter’s attitude: “As if it’s all a lark, gauzy, make-believe. As if it isn’t a matter of lives at stake.”

Nonetheless, Bennie and Walter (a steadfast, bread-baking husband, whom Bennie lovingly calls Stalwart) remain welcoming to all comers, even as the neighborhood’s resistance to the foreign Haredim simmers in the background. Cohen is interested in who remains inside and who outside the pale, but the novel’s “others” — Diggs and her late-arriving parents; Lloyd’s daughter, Ellerby, whose mother is from Nicaragua; a new neighboring Haredi family — are essentially bystanders in the Blumenthals’ festivities, mostly because the family itself (the three other children are teenage Tom and sprightly young Mantha and Pim) is somewhat self-absorbed. Contributing to the drama as the big day approaches are stock theater elements, though they’re Cohen’s not Clem’s: a stranger at the door, a mysterious act of vandalism, someone falling ill and a destructive thunderstorm.

As in a Shakespearean comedy, disparate relationships will find a way to be resolved, and familial love, at least, will prevail. It’s wise Aunt Glad, in her own life’s twilight, whose words provide the novel’s ultimate plea for acceptance, of others and of ourselves: “We must always try to embrace reality.”

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