Meeting the People We Hate at the Wedding

Book Review: The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

When I saw that Allison Janney and Kristin Bell are amongst the cast of the movie adaptation of The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder, I pulled my copy off my shelf and pledged to read the book before I watch the movie starring two of my favorite actresses.

I will keep this book review short because I have to admit that it wasn’t a win for me. Ginder is a good writer, I fully recognize, but the book was slow and didn’t come to a full resolution.

About The People We Hate at the Wedding

When Alice and Paul receive invitations to their half-sister’s English countryside wedding, their first action is to price out the wedding invites, setting the understanding that both are resentful of Eloise’s money. After all, the three’s mother, Donna, has spent Alice and Paul’s lifetimes wishing that she’d never left France after Eloise’s father had an affair. Alice and Paul grew up seeing Eloise as the perfect, privileged half-sister who has coasted through life. Thus, neither are overly keen to participate in the marital celebrations.

Through a series of events that, in my opinion, take up way too many pages of prose in this book that’s just over 300 pages long, Alice and Paul do go to the wedding in England, but their resentment of Eloise and their mother, as well as their own life events, make the trip much more complicated.

My Thoughts While Reading the People We Hate at the Wedding

I love a flawed character. I’m here for their mistakes, opinions, and (hopefully) growth. But Donna, Alice, and Paul do not make good decisions. Let me clarify that: their decisions don’t make sense.

Donna is still mourning the life she could have had with Henrique, her first husband and Eloise’s father, but she plays a melancholy victim. She’s not a fully developed character and seems to star in misaligned vignettes rather than act as the matriarch.

Alice is having an affair with her married boss and struggling to deal with a past, horrific trauma. She was the most likable character for me, but she kind of disappeared at the end of the novel.

Paul resents Donna for how she reacted after his father, Bill, died. He doesn’t know that Bill was a bigot who refused to accept Paul’s homosexuality and only remained quiet because Donna threatened to leave Bill after Paul came out. That’s a terrible experience, but Paul plays victim to his arrogant partner, Mark, and has a tendency to explode in frustration and anger. He’s both dramatic and passive, making me want to yell, “Express your feelings in a productive way.”

Eloise appears to mean well, but she’s not an altruistic person. She uses her money and influence to help her siblings, but doesn’t do it solely out of the goodness of her heart. She wants their approval and acceptance, which is reasonable. However, her final story arc was inconsistent and felt forced.

The People We Hate at the Wedding wasn’t for me, but I recognize that others may love this book. I still plan to watch the movie, and I’m glad I read the book first. This is a rare case of I hope the movie is better than the book.

Anti-Fat Bias with Aubrey Gordon

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

I first heard of Aubrey Gordon when I started listening to her podcast Maintenance Phase. She and cohost Michael Hobbes discuss wellness and weight-loss trends, fads, and policies to find out what’s true, what’s a myth, and what’s just flat-out ridiculous to learn more about how society is obsessed with diet and wellness culture to the detriment of our health. I love their tagline, “Wellness and Weight Loss, Debunked and Decoded,” and I come away from each episode with new ideas and understanding, which is an interesting experience as I try to get healthier and lose weight for my own benefit.

So, when I started reading Gordon’s What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, I knew I’d learn more about diet culture, and I certainly did! As a fat woman who has always felt less-than because of my plus-size body, who has been ashamed to be in public because of my weight, who has fluctuated in weight throughout the last 14 years, I embraced this book with a desire to feel more in control of my body.

Important Note: Gordon defines herself as fat and uses that terminology throughout the book, not in a pejorative way but in a descriptive manner. Therefore, I’m following her lead in that language within this review.

What I Liked About What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat

  • The Vulnerability: Gordon shares personal experiences with anti-fat bias that are both heart-wrenching and infuriating.
    • She is open about being a fat woman and shares stories of times when other people have shamed her for being fat, like when a man threw a fit in a plane because he was seated next to her, when people have told her she shouldn’t be wearing an outfit, and perhaps the most passive-aggressive woman actually took a melon out of Gordon’s grocery shopping cart and told her that she didn’t need the sugar. The fact that so many strangers feel superior enough to take agency over Gordon’s body was eye-opening, as was her overall message that her experiences are not anomalies.
    • Another truly impactful part of this book for me was Gordon’s discussion of how fat women are assumed to be less desirable and therefore more culpable in sexual assault and abuse situations. She wrote all the words I wish I’d read when I was 18, a Size 14, and kept quiet about my sexual assault because of my shame.
  • The Research: Gordon’s book is short, less than 200 pages of essays, but it is full of research and footnotes. While I found some sections to be a bit too dense, I loved that this book wasn’t just a memoir about fatness and personal experiences. Gordon is a brilliant researcher, and so much of the book reads like investigative journalism, which gives way to fully understanding what anti-fat bias is, its pervasiveness across society, and how policies should change to rectify how companies and individuals treat body size.
  • The Messages: Gordon’s message that anti-fat bias is prevalent in nearly every aspect of society. She’s not afraid to take on tough topics that we’ve accepted as the rule, not the exception, like the BMI; the calorie-in, calorie-out weight loss model; the expense of nutrient-laden food; and the constant recommendations of how/why/when to lose weight.
    • Also, I appreciated that Gordon doesn’t assume that everyone should embrace the body positivity movement, especially as others (namely thin white women) have switched the movement to further establish their thinness superiority.

If you’re looking for a weight-loss motivation book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Fat is not it. If you want a book that will help you to understand the reasons why anti-fat bias remains prevalent and destructive, then this is it. And, if you want to learn more, I highly recommend the Maintenance Phase podcast with Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes.

A Deadly Family Game

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman

A Five-Star Book Review

This was my first Catherine Steadman book, but it won’t be my last. I loved The Family Game for many reasons, but most of all, it is a fast-paced thriller that kept me questioning and guessing, which makes for an excellent read.

Synopsis of The Family Game

Harriet (Harry) Reed is a British author who has found success in her own right. Then she met Edward Holbeck, the first son of the Holbeck empire, and the charming man sweeps her off her feet, leading to her move to New York City as she struggles to finish her next novel. When Edward proposes, Harry eagerly accepts. The only trepidation that she, and Edward, feel is Harry’s impending introduction to the rest of the Holbeck family.

Edward has distanced himself from the family conglomerate of communications, logistics, and massive power. He is careful to warn Harry that his parents, Robert and Eleanor, and siblings: Matilda, Stuart, and Oliver, can be overwhelming and often cross boundaries. But the newly engaged couple has much to celebrate, and Harry would be lying if she wasn’t intrigued by the family’s wealth and prominence.

As Harry tries to adjust to the thought of joining the Holbeck family, she is drawn toward patriarch Robert and quickly learns that this family plays many games, some friendly and some not.

What I Loved about The Family Game

  • The plot: I generally lean toward character-driven storylines, and The Family Game is full of well-developed characters. However, the plot is what shined for me. This is a good plot. With twists and turns and questionable actions, Steadman’s story is a wild journey, and I can’t give away too much without spoiling the book, but I’ll give a few examples here:
    • Immense wealth passed down from a 19th century patriarch’s monopoly during the Industrial Revolution.
    • A castle razed from its original land in Hungary and rebuilt by hand in the countryside of New York State.
    • Krampusnacht. That is all.
  • The characters: Not only is the narrator, Harry, a complex protagonist, but the entire Holbeck family is nuanced and unreliable. Everyone has more motivations lingering underneath the surface.
  • The writing: Steadman is my kind of writer. Her prose isn’t sparse, but it is directly and elegant. She writes sentences that you know are foreshadowing for the rest of the story, but you don’t know why. She moves the story and characters along quickly, and she doesn’t bury a reader in unnecessary details.

The Family Game is a twisted thriller full of family drama, hidden truths, and complex histories. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend you pick it up if you’re looking for an exciting ride.