TIME Books

REVIEW: Save the Date: Jen Doll’s Wedding Survival Guide

'Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest' by Jen Doll
Riverhead Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest by Jen Doll

The first-time author shares what she's learned about life, love and acting like an adult after attending more than 17 weddings

A memoir from a “serial wedding guest” recounting almost every knot-tying ceremony she’s attended sounds like the premise of a rom-com, but Jen Doll’s new book, Save the Date, is no Katherine Heigl movie — it’s a smart examination of just how weird weddings can be when put under the microscope.

Doll’s first book, which began as a post on The Hairpin, charmingly chronicles the contradictions of 17 nuptials. Weddings are meant to honor a happy couple’s special day, but most attendees will admit to secretly sizing up their own personal lives while snapping pics in the aisles; they’re also fleeting, single-day events meant to celebrate the idea of “forever,” but for a tradition that so clearly values the intangibles of love and happiness, there sure are a lot of material goods involved. (The book’s original working title was I Bought You a KitchenAid.)

Counterintuitively, the weddings are the least interesting part of the book. Doll offers plenty of description about outfit choices, flower arrangements and hotel interiors, either to set the scene, inspire brides-to-be or anthropologically document one of society’s most treasured customs. (Perhaps all three.) The who, what, where, when and why of the wedding are just a jumping-off point for Doll to expound about dating in the 21st century, falling in love and finding modern meaning in an ancient institution. Some of the best chapters aren’t even about weddings — like when she recounts her Alabama upbringing, grills her parents about the secrets to a lasting partnership or describes a painful falling out that bleeds into multiple essays. Weddings, after all, are as much about friendship as they are about true love.

They’re about shenanigans, too: Doll doles out wedding pro-tips she learned the hard way as she catalogs hook-ups and alcohol-induced foibles, which happen so often that Doll notes part of the book could have been titled “Jen Might Have Had Sort of a Drinking Problem for a While.” At times it can feel like she’s stretching to find meaning in otherwise ordinary moments or coincidences, but it’s also easy to understand why. The ultimate wedding party favor is a good story. Doll has several.

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