Dysfunctionally ever after
Stories of wedding disasters abound, but few can match the hostage-taking that drives the plot of Lisa Zeidner’s witty and compassionate fifth novel, Love Bomb. Haddonfield, New Jersey, is low on the list of places one would expect an intruder, dressed in a wedding gown and a gas mask and with an explosive device strapped to her arm, to turn up as an uninvited guest. When she appears at the wedding of Tess Nathanson and Gabriel Billips on a sunny July Saturday, the joyous event is thrown into turmoil.
The guests (led by a gaggle of psychiatrists who bicker over a DSM-IV diagnosis) conclude the “terrorist of love” is there, not for some political motive, but instead to exact revenge on one of their number. What follows, amid scenes of the hostages’ rising terror and their feckless plans for escape, are a series of “confessions,” most noteworthy those of the bride’s thrice-married father, her brother (still mourning the end of his marriage) and the celebrity boyfriend of the groom’s sister, who’s had his own stalker encounter. These accounts, which play every note on the emotional scale, are the fuel for Zeidner’s own wryly clinical examination of how we, with our fractured and blended families, make such a colossal mess of our most intimate relationships.
In the hands of some writers, this brutal honesty might shade over into mean-spiritedness, but even as she’s skewering the pretension and callousness that mar her characters’ outwardly admirable lives, Zeidner never treats them as anything less than human. That’s especially true for the bride’s mother, Helen Burns, and the terrorist herself, who form a strange bond as the wedding afternoon slips into night.
There are enough incidents (a daring escape and a shooting, among them) to sustain the novel’s underlying tension as Zeidner skillfully moves the plot toward a resolution that is tender and at the same time of a piece with the story’s satirical bent. Love Bomb is a pleasing comedy of manners by a writer firmly in command of her material.