Wednesday, November 11, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Wedding by Dorothy West

 It’s nearly time for our (now virtual) history/historical fiction book group meeting. Our current choice is The Wedding by Dorothy West. 

West is a twentieth-century American author and journalist who was part of the Harlem Renaissance. Her best known work is The Living is Easy, a novel that I admired but didn’t particularly like because of the awfulness of the protagonist. I thought West had written more novels, but she was more of a short story writer and journalist. Her only other novel, which wasn’t published until 1995, is The Wedding.

The Wedding
is set among a community of upper middle class Black professional elites living (or summering) in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1950s.  The novel takes place in the days preceding the wedding of the youngest daughter of the Coles, a prominent couple whose marriage of convenience is unraveling after years of infidelity. The narrator casts back in time to describe the lives of generations of Coles and Shelbys, the hard work and sacrifice that brought the current generation to the point of professional success and social respectability. Along the way, the families deal with racism, classism, and “colorism.”

The issues are complex. The family dynamics are painful. There are few characters to admire: most are either pitiable or awful. The sketches of the individual life stories are interesting, but it takes awhile for the story to pull together as a whole. Once it does, it barrels towards a conclusion that I had not seen coming. Although initially I found it slow going, more intent on its message than its plot, by the end it was riveting. The tragic ending was weirdly satisfying. I’m interested to see how our group’s discussion goes.

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