Lisa Zeidner writes smart, funny, irreverent but good-hearted novels about (mostly) nice people in the urban and suburban Northeast. Her characters are trying to keep their lives centered under circumstances over which they often have little or no control, circumstances that can leave them flailing about as matters proceed in ways totally unrelated to what they expect or want. “Love Bomb” is the fifth of these, the story of a wedding gone excruciatingly awry in which Zeidner affords herself the opportunity to toss well-aimed zingers this way and that while treating her characters with understanding, kindness and affection.
It occurs to me that one of the reasons I like Zeidner’s work so much is that, while it is very much her own, it occupies territory quite similar to that of Laurie Colwin, who wrote, uh, smart, funny, irreverent but good-hearted novels about (mostly) nice people in the urban Northeast. Colwin didn’t much care for the suburbs. Like Zeidner, Colwin knew Philadelphia and Manhattan well, and the upper-middle-class Jewish communities thereof, and had a sympathetic but unsparing eye for the people who entered the pages of her books. Zeidner has a wacky side that Colwin didn’t, but I find it every bit as appealing as Colwin’s wry side.
The story takes place in Haddonfield, in southwestern New Jersey, a pristinely manicured small town that is almost entirely white and mostly quite well-to-do, only a few miles from Camden, which is exactly the opposite in almost every respect: predominantly black, desperately poor, anything except well-manicured. Zeidner teaches at the Camden branch of Rutgers, New Jersey’s state university, so presumably knows the territory well, but “Love Bomb” isn’t an exercise in sociology. It’s a comic novel about two nice young people who fall in love while doing pro bono work in Africa for Doctors Without Borders and come back to the States to get married, not in a church but in the back yard of the bride’s mother, who is all in favor of the marriage but totally opposed to the wedding:
“If they were a tribe in unforgiving terrain, if life were hard and short, there would be an excuse for people to festoon their hair with feathers and machete the suckling pig. People in love? Let’s eat! But here? It was silly. Why sanctify their love with a ceremony? Especially a ceremony performed not in a church but in a suburban backyard, by a friend who made a point of alerting everyone that he bought his ministry license on the Internet.”
If “weddings were pointless,” Helen Burns thinks, “ironic weddings were even more excruciatingly so.” Yet here she is playing hostess to a few dozen people who’ve been dragged out of the back yard and into the great room of her house because of the threat of bad weather. The bride is Helen’s daughter, Tess, and the groom is Gabriel Billips, the son of an African American father and a white mother, “intelligent, open, easygoing people, journalists from Atlanta.” Helen is a psychotherapist “with a mere Ph.D.,” but her ex-husband “and a handful of the wedding guests were psychiatrists who could call in a script for Thorazine or process a committal right on the spot.” If that makes you think that Zeidner aims to have some fun at the expense of psychiatrists, you’re right: