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Publisher's Summary

Maggie Shipstead's stunning debut novel, Seating Arrangements is an irresistible social satire that is also an unforgettable meditation on the persistence of hope, the yearning for connection, and the promise of enduring love.

Winn Van Meter is heading for his family's retreat on the pristine New England island of Waskeke. Normally a haven of calm, for the next three days this sanctuary will be overrun by tipsy revelers as Winn prepares for the marriage of his daughter Daphne to the affable young scion Greyson Duff. Winn's wife, Biddy, has planned the wedding with military precision, but arrangements are sideswept by a storm of salacious misbehavior and intractable lust: Daphne's sister, Livia, who has recently had her heart broken by Teddy Fenn, the son of her father's oldest rival, is an eager target for the seductive wiles of Greyson's best man; Winn, instead of reveling in his patriarchal duties, is tormented by his long-standing crush on Daphne's beguiling bridesmaid Agatha; and the bride and groom find themselves presiding over a spectacle of misplaced desire, marital infidelity, and monumental loss of faith in the rituals of American life.

Hilarious, keenly intelligent, and commandingly well written, Shipstead's deceptively frothy first novel is a piercing rumination on desire, love and its obligations, and the dangers of leading an inauthentic life, heralding the debut of an exciting new literary voice.

©2012 Maggie Shipstead (P)2012 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Maggie Shipstead is an outrageously gifted writer, and her assured first novel, Seating Arrangements, is by turns hilarious and deeply moving." (Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic )
"Seating Arrangements is bursting with perfectly observed characters and unforgettable scenes. This gorgeous, wise, funny, sprawling novel about family, fidelity, and social class, is the best book I've read in ages." (Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine)
"A pitch-perfect debut from a master storyteller, Seating Arrangements is a rich and deep work: a smart, consuming novel that manages also to be delightfully funny. A romp of a book, with whales and weddings and wealth, it is, at its heart, a warning against the empty seductions of status and exclusivity." (Justin Torres, author of We the Animals)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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Deadly dull

Would you try another book from Maggie Shipstead and/or Arthur Morey?

I am so bored by this book, the reading, and the plot that I will avoid anything from the author and the reader. This is a huge waste of time. If my book club wasn't reviewing the book, I'd stop in the middle and abandon it.

Has Seating Arrangements turned you off from other books in this genre?

Not the genre--this is the fault of the author

How did the narrator detract from the book?

He was probably well suited for such an unlikeable, monotonous story

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?


3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Resist, Not Worth the Credit

Boring, boring, boring. Who listens to this stuff and likes it? I think I get over zealous on the sales, though I always read reviews, because this is the third book purchased on the last 6 months that was simply terrible.

I can't give you a redeeming value because the book had none. I listened for 4 hours and decided to move on to one of the many great books available.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Amanda
  • Phoenix, AZ, United States
  • 06-23-12

A Vivid Portrait

Seating Arrangements has a large cast of supporting characters, but the focus of the story is Winn Van Meter. Winn is almost 60, well off (although not as well off as he'd like to be) and a Harvard alum. He's also obsessed with looking successful, and desperately lacking in any semblance of self-awareness.

Along with giving away FAR too many plot points, the summary proclaims this novel as "Hilarious". That's not a word I'd use to describe the book. I never laughed out loud, and I'm not even sure if I ever found myself smiling; I did, however, find myself fascinated.

I suspect that most people have known someone like Winn Van Meter. The successful, old-school man that takes himself very seriously, and get's extremely offended if you make the mistake of teasing him good-naturedly. He's overly invested in receiving formal apologies for small or imagined wrongs, while never for a moment suspecting that he may owe someone else an apology. Most of all, he can't figure out why his life isn't going exactly - to the letter - the way he wants it to; after all, it's all about him, and HE certainly didn't do a darn thing wrong.

This isn't a book with a lot of over-the-top drama. It's subtle and smart, and very insightful. As I listened, I kept marveling that I hadn't come across a book about this character before; it seems so obvious there should be one.

The other review I read for this book expressed disappointment with the narration. I understand where that is coming from, although I enjoyed the narration very much. There are two styles of narrators; those that act out the book, with unique voices and lots of emotion, and those that simply serve as the reader. Arthur Morey is the latter, which I found a good fit for the style and content. I enjoyed that his low key style mirrored the tone of the book.

All in all, a breath of fresh air.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

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Funny, easy listen.

Any additional comments?

This book is enjoyable is if you know that it is just light and silly. But the truth is that there are real people like the characters in the book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A Great Authorial Debut

What made the experience of listening to Seating Arrangements the most enjoyable?

Sticking it out. I needed to get into the book a little bit...because I did, indeed, reach that point where, much as I disliked some of the protagonists, I had to find out what happened next.

I have to admit that I hated this book when I first began to listen. The characters were uniformly unpleasant. I stuck it out because a) the NY Times had given it such a glowing review, and b) I trust narrator Arthur Morey. His favorite-pair-of-most-comfortable-shoes voice has guided me through some of most favorite and pleasurable literary audio experiences.

What other book might you compare Seating Arrangements to and why?

As I listened, I found myself wondering who I would compare this author to. Russell Banks, Richard Russo, and John Irving came to mind (although Russo and Irving have an automatic connection because Morey reads so many of their books).

What about Arthur Morey’s performance did you like?

I love Mr. Morey's work. Arthur Morey to me is like coming home and slipping on my very favorite pair of shoes, the ones that are worn in, that fit me perfectly, that still look great after all these years because they were beautifully made to begin with. I've heard some people describe him as whiny, but for me, that's usually because the character calls for it. He isn't a tricky narrator, full of distinct accents or tones. He's simple, well-paced, a very good reader.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

What stands out for me most--and shows that all they hype on this book was the real deal--is that I didn't like this book at all when I first started listening to it. But toward the end--and after a lot of cringing and laughing--I really wanted to see how these characters would find their way. I cared about them a lot at the end. Well, maybe not Winn. But even in his utter distastefulness, this is a character worth spending some time with. If nothing else, just for the sheer relief that he's not one of your actual relatives.

I am surprised at how much I've continued to think about this book, even though I heard "The End" several weeks ago.

Any additional comments?

If you like John Irving, Richard Russo, and Audrey Neffenegger, you will most likely enjoy this book immensely.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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A caricature of pathetic people

Can't really say there was any humor here as some have said. Kept waiting for a character, any character to display some redeeming quality. But every time a new character was introduced, they seemed to be more pathetic than the previous one. The plot was shallow at best, the performance was so-so, and I was glad when it was over.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Nice wasp lit if you like this sort of thing

Arguably the most interesting thing about this book is how polarized the listener reviews are...people either liked/loved the book, or were truly bored and annoyed with everything about it.
So if you're considering whether or not to download this, you need to figure out into which camp you fall.
To help you, I've constructed the following handy quiz:

John Cheever was:
a: genius
b: a pretentious asshole
c: who?

Wasps are:
a: tragically anachronistic self-identified delusional isolationists
b: pretentious assholes
c: scary poisonous insects

I plan to listen to this book:
a: on the beach half-drunk
b: commuting on a shitty subway train while my pretentious asshole boss is at the beach probably half-drunk
c: what do you mean by plan?

In a book about a family with issues, an exploding dead whale is:
a: a finely-crafted literary representation of building family resentments
b a ridiculously obvious metaphor for a bunch of pretentious assholes
c: super gross

When if comes to Audible narrators, I prefer
a: whomever fits the tone of the book best
b: whomever feels like a comfortable old shoe and isn't a pretentious asshole
c: someone who doesn't sound like my rabbi

I identify with characters who:
a: are revealed slowly and have interesting backstories
b: get my interest and sympathy right away and don't bore me to sleep
c: exhibit poor judgement

ANSWER KEY: If you had mostly a's or c's, you will probably like this book, but if you had any b answers, this probably isn't your cup of tea.

A note on the narration: I think Arthur Morey--much as I love him--was seriously miscast here. His narration isn't waspy enough to be the voice of Winn (sorry but there's just too much New York Borough/LES in his diction) and his substandard raspy-lispy-falsetto female voices don't contribute much to a novel in which most of the characters are, in fact, female.
I'm not in the biz but for what it's worth if I could cast any narrator for this it would be Dylan Baker....

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Annoying narrator

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I would suggest reading this book instead of listening to the audio version.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Arthur Morey?

I would cast someone that could do a better job with women's voices. I would also prefer that the father did not sound like he was 95 years old.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Marcia
  • Gaithersburg, MD, United States
  • 06-19-12

Poor Narrator Ruins Good Book

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

A better reader.

What didn’t you like about Arthur Morey’s performance?

He reads in a monotone which makes it extremely difficult to follow.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Seating Arrangements?


Any additional comments?

I think this is probably a very charming book with wonderfully quirky characters. But I have started over three times and am still hang trouble because the reader is so boring.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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most boring story ever!

What would have made Seating Arrangements better?

If the story actually headed somewhere instead of just focusing on how lame the main character was.

What was most disappointing about Maggie Shipstead???s story?

that it was boring.

What three words best describe Arthur Morey???s voice?

appropriate for story

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Seating Arrangements?

all of them! Especially the part of him climbing on the neighbor's roof and falling off!

3 of 5 people found this review helpful