I’ve been seeing “The People We Hate at the Wedding” everywhere since it was published in early June. The title suggested a fun, snarky and catty read that would be a welcome break after Tad Williams’ doorstop of a book, “The Witchwood Crown.”
Not so much.
“The People We Hate at the Wedding” could be described more as “The People I Hate in this Book,” which was pretty much every character.
The novel follows a dysfunctional family: Donna, the mom; Eloise, the older daughter from Donna’s first marriage; Alice, the younger sister; and, finally, brother Paul.
Eloise, the perfect, lovely daughter lives in London and is planning her wedding to Ollie. She has a successful job, a gorgeous apartment, and a close relationship with her stateside mother. Less close is her relationship with her half-siblings, who are dreading the impending nuptials.
The first part of the book is spent entirely with Alice, Paul and Donna. Alice lives in Los Angeles where she works for a data company and is having an affair with her married boss.
Paul lives in Philadelphia with his boyfriend, Mark, a college professor. Paul left his promising career path back in New York when he followed Mark to Pennsylvania for work. Now he works for a controversial doctor who forces people to confront their fears and obsessions through immersion therapy (think forcing a woman with OCD to stand in a garbage can for 20 minutes).
Alice is still reeling from her daughter’s stillbirth five years before, as well as her father’s death. Paul’s horribly pretentious boyfriend, Mark, wants to invite other men into their bedroom, which Paul sees as the death knell on their relationship. Paul has also been estranged from his mother for nearly three years since the death of his father, Bill.
In Chicago, Donna struggles with not having Paul in her life. Her son believes that Donna did not handle grieving her late husband properly, while Donna was actually protecting Paul from his father’s reaction to Paul’s sexuality. She also still mourns the loss of her life in Paris with her first husband, whom left her for the Spanish nanny. She misses the woman she had been then, with a wealthy husband, and has turned to smoking pot to dull her boring Midwestern, suburban life.
Alice and Paul are dreading Eloise’s wedding. To them, she was a seasonal sister — rarely around as she was older and spent most of her time in Europe or at Yale for college. They see Eloise as having lived a charmed life, especially since she has been blessed with a trust fund by her father. Meanwhile, Alice is wracking up debt trying to keep up with Eloise.
The family finally lands in London in the second part of the book, where Eloise is added as a point-of-view character. She comes off as the best of the characters, because all she wants is to have a close family, and she tries her hardest to bring everyone together. But according to her siblings, she “just doesn’t get it,” and so, keeps offending everyone.
Eloise is certainly the most likeable character, but it’s hard to really embrace her as her siblings treat her with such vitriol. Alice is absolutely awful. While initially I empathized with her loss, the things she thinks and does are reprehensible. She books a room at the ultra-posh Claridge’s Hotel in London to impress Eloise, despite how it would raise her debt even more.
When she checks in, she learns that Eloise has paid for the room and upgraded her to the best suite. In revenge, she gets high on Klonopin and orders a thousand dollars worth of room service. It’s this sort of nasty pettiness that in no way endears her to the reader.
Mark, Paul’s pretentious boyfriend, and Eloise’s fiance, Ollie, round out the cast. Ollie is known for being likeable, but when he muses over marrying Eloise because he likes her enough and doesn’t want to let her go only to regret it later, he lost me.
I was hoping for a quick read about catty people at the wedding. The wedding itself doesn’t come until the very end, and we don’t even get to the reception, which is usually the fun part. Frankly, I’d rather have slogged through “The Witchwood Crown” all over again. Skip this one … unless you like books where every single character is awful and the story is nothing to write home about.