Wedding Puzzle (Transit Lounge Publishing 2019) is the new novel by author Sallie Muirden, a sort of blend between a romantic comedy and a YA coming of age story. Over the course of one very important day – her wedding day – 24-year-old Beth Shaw contemplates her life thus far and her impending union with her fiancé, Jordan.
As she drives down the peninsula coast to the famous Portsea Hotel and as she supervises the arrangements, she is unsettled and disconcerted by a letter she has received that has given her pause, and perhaps reason to doubt Jordan’s emotional fidelity. As the day wears on towards the afternoon ceremony – guests arriving, food prepared, flowers arranged, dress and veil sorted, bridal suite booked – Beth looks back on her life so far, most particularly her complex relationships with high-school friends and rivals.
Beth also has a complicated family history, and the impending arrival of her various relatives is also cause for some consternation. But it is her ties with the baton-wielding school relay team, and the divided loyalties and betrayals of adolescence, along with the chequered past of her husband-to-be, with his many romantic entanglements and conquests, that causes the most confusion.
This novel is almost a stream-of-consciousness narrative, as Beth considers her past behaviour, the actions of her friends, and the bigger question about marriage and all that implies – the commitment, the devotion, the sacrifice, the things she must give up and the things she might gain. There are characters that feel familiar, in the way of infrequently-seen relatives, or old school friends that you meet in later life when it seems two worlds are colliding. The constant reversion to the past was slightly discombobulating, especially as it wasn’t chronological, but provided in glimpses and snatches of memory. And the plot is farcical and over the top, in the way of an old-fashioned comedy-of-manners or slapstick humour (I can see this as a light-hearted film). I think this would appeal to readers who have moved on from the identity searching of young adult literature and transitioned into that twenty-something age, of beginning to analyse their choices and the direction their life is taking, the age when the idea of life-long commitment to another person appears as a possibility, a time when childhood seems long over but the full-on responsibilities of adulthood have not yet taken root. And as the book is set in the late 80’s, it probably will also appeal to those who passed through their adolescence in that period and remember nostalgically the idiosyncrasies and fads of the time.