Gavin Greene writes the wedding column for the Paper, and he has come to the realization that he may forever be a single guy attending other people's weddings. He doesn't want to be alone, but he's not quite sure what to do about it. His breakup with his last girlfriend, Laurel, was painful, and he doesn't know where things went wrong.
Gavin meets Melinda at a party, thinks she's wonderful, and realizes too late that she had been flirting with him. Having lost sight of her, he tries to find her again, fails, and then tries to forget her while interviewing brides- and grooms-to-be, dealing with family-related stress, and nervously wondering if he will be the next person at the Paper to be laid off. After making a bad decision, Gavin gets roped into covering a wedding that happens to be Melinda's wedding. His personal and professional lives collide in hugely uncomfortable ways.
I've seen this book described as a romantic comedy, but it's not. It's basically chick lit from a man's perspective. I'm more of a romance reader than a chick lit reader and, for that reason and a few others, I don't think this book was right for me.
That doesn't mean I disliked it. I loved Gavin's “voice” - he was funny, smart (when he wasn't allowing his desperate desire to find himself a girlfriend/future wife override his common sense), and sympathetic. I enjoyed Gavin's interviews with the brides- and grooms-to-be, and I found the little wedding columnist details, like Gavin being unable to eat the food at weddings because it could be construed as accepting bribes, to be fascinating. Devan Sipher has been a wedding columnist for several years, and I think that real-life experience really showed.
As much as I loved how real some aspects of this book felt, there were times when I could have used a little less realism. I had hoped for and expected a fun, frothy read. Instead, Gavin's fears of being laid off and of being single for the rest of his life made this book surprisingly depressing. Judging from other readers' comments, I may be the only person who felt that way, but since the feeling hit me so strongly I almost DNF'ed this several times, it's something I think I should mention.
A good part of my reaction may be due to my own circumstances. I'm single, I don't expect to ever not be single, and, although for the most part I don't mind that, there are times when single person fears hit me hard. At one point in The Wedding Beat, Gavin's grandmother is caring for her husband as he lies in his hospital bed, and she says to Gavin, “'Who's going to take care of you?'” (125), inspiring Gavin to occasional fits of “I'm going to die alone” thoughts. To me, as a single person, it felt very, very real...and it was so not what I needed or wanted out of my recreational reading.
Gavin's search for someone to finally walk down the aisle with struck me as more desperate than romantic. I was never convinced that Melinda was the one woman, out of all the women in the whole book, that Gavin should end up with. In fact, when Melinda and Gavin first met, I actually flipped to the end to be sure that they really ended up together, because I was getting conflicting vibes. On the one hand, Melinda seemed nice, attractive, perfect (almost too perfect), and overall just the sort of woman Gavin has been hoping for. On the other hand, there was this line, a thought Gavin had after finding out that Melinda was a travel reporter who had volunteered at a girls' orphanage in Katmandu and taught English in a rural village: “She made me feel deficient as a journalist – and a human.” (31). I don't understand why anyone would want to be with a person who made them feel that way.
Gavin and Melinda had some nice moments together - my favorite was probably when Gavin almost made a fool out of himself trying to be Melinda's knight-in-shining-armor by helping her get back into her apartment after she locked herself out – but, now that I think about it, they spent very little time getting to know each other. Their happy ending came very suddenly, and I was never able to shake the feeling that they would eventually come to the realization that they didn't actually fit together. Gavin didn't seem to belong with Melinda any more, or less, than he belonged with Laurel, his ex-girlfriend, or even Brooke, a one-night-stand.
I'm conflicted about this book. I liked some aspects of it very much and found Gavin to be an enjoyable character. However, Gavin's worries about losing his job and about being single made this a more uncomfortable read than I expected, and Sipher was never able to sell me on Gavin and Melinda's romance.
Like I said, I haven't read much chick lit (or lad lit/guy lit, which I found is a thing that really exists and which would probably be a fabulous search phrase for someone who's looking for more "chick lit, but from a male perspective"). As a result, it was way easier to think of movies that were similar to this book than other books. Actually, it wouldn't shock me much if The Wedding Beat were eventually turned into a movie.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Never Been Kissed (live action movie) - A shy, socially awkward copy editor-turned-journalist goes undercover at a high school and falls in love with an English teacher. Those who'd like another "journalist falling inadvisably in love" story might want to try this. Like Gavin, Josie is a huge romantic. I've written about this movie.
- The Wedding Planner (live action movie) - Mary is a wedding planner who falls a for a guy who happens to be the groom in the biggest wedding of her career. I haven't seen this one, but it sounds like it might be a good fit for those who'd like another story involving weddings and falling in love with the wrong person.
- 27 Dresses (live action movie) - The main character of this movie has been a bridesmaid 27 times and must now deal with being asked to plan her sister's wedding to the man she is secretly in love with. I haven't seen this, but it sounds like it would be a good fit for anyone who'd like a similar "trying to be supportive and objective while watching the person you love potentially marry someone else" story.
- Bridesmaids (live action movie) - This is raunchier than The Wedding Beat, and the comedy is blacker (unlike Gavin's life, which is only threatening to unravel, Annie's life really is unraveling). However, those who'd like another story involving a single person reevaluating their life while trying to deal with someone else's wedding might want to try this.
- Me Talk Pretty One Day (book) by David Sedaris - Some of Gavin's thoughts while attending weddings or interviewing people prior to weddings made me think of Sedaris's writings, although Sedaris has more of a tendency to veer towards darker humor. I'm specifically suggesting Me Talk Pretty One Day because it's one of my favorites - I love the "learning to speak French" portions - and because I can't remember if any of his other works would fit better. I'm pretty sure newbies could start with any one of his books and be just fine, though. I've written about one of Sedaris's other books, Naked.
- Love and Other Recreational Sports (book) by John Dearie - This is one of the books I came across while looking for lad lit. It actually sounds a good bit different from The Wedding Beat, in that the main character is actively avoiding being in a relationship at first, but those who'd like another book with a chick lit tone, but from a male perspective, may want to try this.
- The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook (book) by Matt Dunn - This is another book that came up during my search through lists of lad lit. When Eddie's long-time girlfriend leaves him, telling him he's "let himself go," Eddie becomes determined to win her back. He sets out to improve himself and figure out how to attract women again. Those who'd like another book with a chick lit tone, but from a male perspective, may want to try this.