Scenes from an Impending Marriage by Adrian Tomine – review

The Guardian    |    Rachel Cooke    |    May 1, 2011

Do you have a friend who is in the process of turning into Bridezilla (or even Groomzilla, since women certainly don't have a monopoly on wedding madness)? Then I have the perfect gift for her - though on second thoughts, perhaps this is a treat best left until after her nuptials when, one hopes, your friend will miraculously recover her mislaid sense of humour. Adrian Tomine, author of the brilliant Shortcomings and a cartoonist at the New Yorker, has written a "prenuptial memoir" called Scenes from an Impending Marriage in which he lays bare, with ruthless efficiency, the bizarre effect that organising a wedding can have on even the sane and the cynical (and Tomine, as fans will know, is nothing if not cynical). Is it accurate? Yes, as a laser. Is it hilarious? All I can say is that it will make you - if not your good pal Bridezilla - snort like a dragon. Don't, on any account, combine reading it with lunch.

Tomine's specialist subject is angst and alienation among young bohemians; his characters wear heavy spectacles and cool sneakers, they eat a lot of takeout, and they worry excessively about fitting in. It's a world he knows well: Tomine has never flinched from the idea that much of what he writes and draws is thinly disguised autobiography. But because he's so devastatingly observant, he cannot be anything other than hardest on himself. Scenes from an Impending Marriage is more of the same, really, only this time it's explicit: the book began its life when his fiancee, Sarah, begged him to draw a miniature comic book for their guests as a wedding "favour". I wonder what those guests think now. One of the book's funniest sections is about who one invites to a wedding, and why. His list, compared with hers, is tiny. "Come on!" he yells, in a funk before they've even begun. "We've gotta break this endless cycle of obligation and reciprocity!"

It's all here: from choosing a venue, to picking a DJ, to registering for a wedding list ("It's emblematic of our whole culture: 'I want lots of stuff and I want to shoot a gun!'" observes Adrian in Crate & Barrel, where couples must use a barcode scanner to compile their list). There is even a section entitled: "An Even-Handed Acknowledgment of Both Families' Cultural Heritage", whose moral is that taiko drummers (Tomine has Japanese roots) and bagpipe players do not, under any circumstances, mix. The blurb on the back of Faber's British edition remarks that the book is replete with "unabashed tenderness" – which is sweet, but not entirely true. I counted just one lovey-dovey frame in the entire book. Even the moment when, late on their wedding night, the happy couple wind up companionably eating greasy burgers in their hotel is shot through with futility. At the wedding, they failed to eat anything at all; in the end, they passed through the fruits of all their labours as if in a crazy dream.

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