We’re at suburban wedding, held in the Haddonfield, New Jersey, family room of the bride’s mother. The 60 guests include the bride’s father, his current wife, his second wife (and his assorted children), the (biracial) groom’s family, several guests from Africa, where the bride and groom met while working with Doctors Without Borders, a few minor celebrities, and an unusual number of therapists. As the ceremony is about to begin, a mysterious woman in a wedding gown and gas mask, wired with a bomb and toting a shotgun, appears, abruptly transforming the wedding into a hostage situation. She has been wronged, she announces, and she demands an apology.
Then she leaves the room, locking them all in.
Weddings can be fraught, even without a hostage-taker as uninvited guest. Choosing the venue, hiring the caterers, winnowing down the guest list, anxiety about how certain family members will behave, as well as anxiety about how the families of the bridal couple will get along, can make for tension in the most humdrum of weddings. This tension is usually released with a touching ceremony and that first marital kiss, followed by booze and dancing.
But not here.
Love Bomb, despite the setup, isn’t a thriller. It’s a comedy of manners. The author’s breezy tone assures us that nothing ghastly is going to happen, so we’re free to enjoy watching the story play out, seeing the hostages unravel or rise to the occasion; form bonds or annoy the hell out of each other; display cowardice or grace.
If this book has a hero, it’s the mother of the bride. Helen is a middle-aged, divorced therapist. Smart and attractive (there’s a suggestion that Helen Mirren could play her in the movie), she handles this incredibly dicey situation admirably, both connecting with the troubled “terrorist” and watching out for her fellow hostages, not because of any special training but relying on the knowledge and experience she’s gained from years of being both a good therapist and a good mother. She also serves as the mouthpiece for the author’s sharp, knowing, and very funny observations about human nature and suburban life.
A middle-aged woman myself, I welcome any book where the strongest, sharpest, and most interesting character happens to be a postmenopausal woman. It’s vastly entertaining to see these events unfold through her eyes.
As the guests struggle to determine who among them might need to issue an apology by sharing their personal histories, the psychotherapists argue with each other about the correct diagnosis for the “batty bride.” The groom’s grandfather, an African American retired colonel with combat experience, becomes the group’s leader, while Helen becomes their spokesperson (constantly undermined in her efforts to establish trust with the hostage taker by her self-important, tone-deaf ex). The hostage taker eavesdrops on them, occasionally returning to the room to make announcements or threats.
To say that Love Bomb is a page-turner would be an understatement. Everything moves very quickly.
Halfway through the book, the scene shifts to the local police station, where the cops are scrambling to cope. Experts are brought in. The SWAT team is assembled. Information is gathered about the hostage taker: who is she, what does she want, and how can they defuse this thing so it doesn’t turn into a tragedy? Zeidner has clearly done her homework (in Part 2, Zeidner explains how she did it). She gets the facts, the inside jokes, and the stationhouse culture and slang just right, and displays this inside knowledge with a light touch.
Everything plays out, and they all get what they want or what they deserve—including the reader, who will find this book both deeply entertaining and emotionally satisfying.
Love Bomb reminds me, in the best possible way, of an Alice Adams novel. Adams, that most readable of authors, whose short fiction often ran in The New Yorker, penned a number of very successful novels in which wonderful things often came to middle-aged women. Zeidner, like Adams, recognizes that while you don’t necessarily get wiser as you grow older, you often become more interesting. She’s knowing but kind to her characters, dispensing humor and wisdom with a gentle touch.
Can Love Bomb possibly live up to that fabulous opening? It can and it does.