Mating Ritual of the North American WASP
spoiler alert At its core, Mating Rituals of the North American WASP is wholly typical. Girl goes to Vegas. Girl gets drunk. Girl wakes up to find she married some stranger. Girl flees back to New York. Boy calls her up to tell her that, yes, they’re legally married. In time, Boy and Girl fall in love and decide to stay married. Mix in a secondary cliché plot: if they stay married, they get money.
Peggy is a New Yorker who runs a shop with her best friend. They’ve been successful for ten years, but their rent is about to be hiked up (that much is realistic). Luke Sedgwick is the last surviving member of the venerable Sedgwick clan, a family that has not left Connecticut since its founder built a big house which is now falling apart. Luke would love to sell the house and leave his oppressive birthright behind him, but his great-aunt Abigail is in her eighties and she refuses to leave. Her health is deteriorating at the same pace as the house, and Luke is badly in need of a way to pay for both.
Peggy and Luke meet in Vegas where inhibitions go to die. Aunt Abigail, clearly having her priorities straight, says she will allow Luke to sell the house if he and Peggy remain married for one year. Needing her share of the house’s selling price, Peggy starts leading a double life. During the week she lives and works in the city and on weekends she rents a car, drives to Connecticut, and pretends to be the happily married wife of a genuine, full-blooded WASP.
I kept reading this book out of a sense of obligation, and because there was nothing terribly egregious about it. But in hindsight, I’m actually rather pissed. You see, there’s Peggy and Luke… and then there’s Peggy and Brock.
Brock is Peggy’s long-time boyfriend/pet frat boy-cum-thrillseeker. They’ve been dating for six years, and she desperately wants him to pop the question. He’s constantly finding reasons not to. They have a big fight right before Peggy goes to Vegas, and later, just as she’s having feelings for Luke, Brock shows up with a ring. Peggy tells herself she can wait out the six months left of secret marriage with no one the wiser.
Brock is a selfish, childish dolt. He has no redeeming qualities besides being handsome. He’s comfortable in a no-strings relationship with a woman who is too anxious to assert herself, and he likes it that way. Peggy’s waffling is annoying, and her self-delusion more than a little infuriating. Worse, she doesn’t have that big, cathartic "I Am An Idiot And I Really Love Luke" moment at the end. In a faceoff between the three of them, she chooses Brock. Sure, it comes right in the very end, but Silent Luke’s not exactly fantastic either.
The book itself is WASP-ish. There’s no sex, no intimacy, and no delicious description. I never really rooted for Luke because I never felt the supposed connection with Peggy. I didn’t have much sympathy for either of them because there wasn’t much to like about them.
I will give kudos for a heroine who wasn’t stereotypical. Peggy has a streak of neurosis that I liked, but it wasn’t made into a defining issue, and it could have been. I would have much preferred a story about a woman who learns to let go of her own anxiety through her exposure to some classically repressed people.