A Personal Review Of “I Am Love” And “Seating Arrangements”


Tilda Swinton, I Am Love, Jil Sander

It’s been a while since I addressed my odd High WASP culture. Those of you old-timers who find the theme annoying, please (as Faux Fuchsia would say), Look Away Now™.

Those of you new to the blog, I ask your forbearance. This is a complicated topic*.  We’re throwing in a book and a movie review for good measure.

This weekend I finally caught up with I Am Love, Tilda Swinton’s movie about an Italian “haute bourgeoise” family. Coincidentally, and recently, I happened also to have read Maggie Shipstead’s book, Seating Arrangements.

Both sent me into tiny rages.

I Am Love tells the story of a Russian woman, married for something like 25 years to the patriarch of a wealthy Italian family. The term bourgeois applies because the money comes from textiles, not land or title. A distinction we don’t make here in America. Never mind.

So the lovely Russian, known now as Emma, leaves her husband, family and beautiful house for a young chef. She and her lover cook, make love in fields, and for some reason wind up dirty and entwined in a cave. I’m still shaking my head over that part. Along the way, loved ones die, tables are set, glorious Jil Sander clothes get worn. A tragic melodrama, I’ll call it.

Pearls, those harbingers of doom.

Seating Arrangements, on the other hand, is more of a melodramatic comedy. No denying, it’s entertaining.

Did you know that comedies often end in weddings or dances? Yes. Yes they do. This one tells the story of a New England High WASP family wedding. The patriarch, Richard, serves as protagonist. Ineffectual, alienated, foolish; protagonist nonetheless. I was so mad by the time I reached the end of the book that my memory of the plot is foggy, but I do recall that Richard falls off a roof when attempting to steal the weathervane from his more successful rival’s new house.

And there you have the primary stereotypes of privileged European-derived families, one, two, and done. Repressed and dominated woman, alienated anxious man. Bah humbug. Updike and Cheever wrote this guy to pieces. Richard Ford does a far better job with the species, albeit one conceptual town over. To say nothing of Edith Wharton and Age of Innocence. Ibsen and Flaubert imagined Hedda Gabler and Emma Bovary (get it? Emma?), ages ago. It’s been mapped, people, it’s been done to death.

I understand that some privileged families will be very similar to those portrayed in these two vehicles. I get that. What bothers me is that it’s the same picture all the time, and each time we’re supposed to experience the narrative as new and revelatory. I don’t mind that Swinton and Shipstead got it wrong for some, but that they imply it’s correct for all, otherwise known as stereotyping.

I’m angry because it’s wrong to use cultural stereotypes inauthentically in art, as symbols. Especially in melodramas. Only irony illuminates stereotypes.

And I’ve got a dog in this hunt. Look, in my own family, we’ve got men who feel anxiety. They are not figures of fun. We’ve got women who leave. They don’t wind up in fields, with bugs. If you really want to understand this culture in America, read Cheerful Money, Tad Friend’s family history. Just because England is your prison, doesn’t mean Italy sets you free.

Art is supposed to have a valuable relationship with truth.

I understand that my reaction is highly personal. Too personal, probably. Had this been about an Asian family, I could simply have enjoyed the pageantry and the comedy or tragedy of manners. Narratives of the privileged set a stage for fashion and design. Money makes for impeccable surfaces. But it feels dreadful when your own details are used as commodity symbols.

By the way, while Shipstead captures a New England island party, I Am Love misses, here and there.

For example, at one point Emma steals a book. We’re supposed to see she’s overwhelmed by desire, but really? She’d have realized the crime, just before she gets into the truck to go cook with Antonio. Neither shrimp nor a bare-chested bearded man would make her break the code. Another example. At the climactic deathbed? No one comforts the bereaved wife. Very, very rude. In extremis we rely even more on decorum.

Most erroneously, when Emma leaves, she walks out with nothing. In real life, she’d take the jewelry. She would. She knows the value or she’d have left long ago.

Finally, I do understand that coming from privilege, my feelings count as what we call First World Problems. That’s the thing about privilege, at least what I hope is intelligent privilege, you know you have to suck it up from the git go. You understand, early on, that others stand before you in the injustice line.

But I have to ask, does privilege waive one’s right to protest stereotyping? Or, are the privileged fair game? It’s a serious question, one to which I do not know the answer. Maybe all American jokes in the future will begin, “Two High WASPs walk into a bar…”

 

*”What is a ‘High WASP,’” you may ask. A term I use to mean someone who fulfills the WASP acronym, but also comes from a family that made an American fortune. Often the term ‘WASP,’ alone is used to refer to this smaller sub-group; I aim for precision. Note that Pete Campbell’s father-in-law call him a “High WASP,” on Mad Men. We do not use the word “high” here to indicate virtue, only circumstances. For more, here’s my About page, and here’s the search on prior posts. I have to promise you I am not too big of a big jerk, and hope that I’ve done a better job here at the nuances than in this January post.

 

42 Comments

  • 07/24/12
    7:35 am

    Reply

    Whitney said...

    I have not even heard about I Am Love so I am glad you shared it – also, yes, of COURSE she would take the jewelry!

    I have Seating Arrangements on my to-read list this summer, maybe it’ll have to wait for when I go on the honeymoon…

    Cheerful Money really is wonderful. My first “celebrity” response on Twitter was Tad Friend after I mentioned how much I loved the book. That was a cool moment. I think I need to re-read it again!

  • 07/24/12
    7:44 am

    Reply

    kathy said...

    There is actually a very limited number of basic stories, and these themes in literature are repeated over and over, so I don’t think it’s a fair criticism of the film, “I Am Love”, that it’s been done before. And as for the practical things, like leaving without her jewelry or any money, those things are done for emotional effect, not realism, as is often the case in art. Maybe a bad decision on the screenwriter’s or director’s part, but it works for me as it kept up the emotional intensity. I first saw the film in a movie theatre, and I’ve seen it a couple more times on TV.
    I liked the story well enough, thought the film was visually stunning, the architecture, interiors, her clothing, the cinematography, all of it – enough to see it again just to view that. I never felt that the film set itself up as a purveyor of realistic cultural anthropology – it’s entertainment. Effective fiction, in any medium, often takes liberties with “the truth and practicality”, but if it is done artistically, it can often reflect the real truth more completely than just “objective data”.

    07/24/12
    7:46 am
    kathy said...

    “There are” not “There is”.

    07/24/12
    1:44 pm
    Russian Chic said...

    “And as for the practical things, like leaving without her jewelry or any money, those things are done for emotional effect, not realism, as is often the case in art.”

    May I please disagree with the above statement? Russian soul at its very essence is unpractical and not logical. When I was 6y.o. when my mother met her soul mate. Not only she left without jewelry and money, she left her apartment (all she had at that time) to my father. He kept chasing her so she would give me to him as well.
    To this day (I’m 37 now) I have mixed feelings about her decision to give me away.
    I forgive and love her as we all have only one life to live.

    07/26/12
    8:12 am
    Lisa said...

    I have never been proved wrong so beautifully in all my life. Clearly I do not understand the Russian culture. I can only imagine, and probably not very well, what you went through. I am very impressed that you forgive her and approach life as you do.

    07/26/12
    7:48 am
    Lisa said...

    I agree that universal themes are done over and over again. My thesis, which I continue to hold true, is that the semi-universal themes, one that focus on certain groups of people and assume behaviors due to social or racial category, are wrong. I’m stretching it for my class, clearly.

  • 07/24/12
    7:45 am

    Reply

    Suburban Princess said...

    Try being a Scottish WASP and the butt of every joke.

    07/24/12
    9:56 am
    SewingLibrarian said...

    Ha! Try being a conservative Christian!

    07/24/12
    2:36 pm
    Marge Hess said...

    Can one really be a Scottish WASP, now that we are dealing with stereotypes?
    I have always wondered that. Coming from an Irish family that came to America first class, and not because of the famine (stereotype busting there), we act a lot like WASPs, but there was no “Anglo-Saxon” in our immediate line (well, at least not in the prior century).
    Would that make you a WCP (White, Celtic, Protestant) and me a WCC?

  • 07/24/12
    7:50 am

    Reply

    beautifuldreamer1066 said...

    You are astute and thoughtful about your circumstances and I find it refreshing. I come from a solid middle class background and in my twety-five plus years working within the welfare system, I have learned some fascinating things about socio-economic stereotypes from that perspective. I appreciate your small rages. They help you bring forward the small, seemingly unimportant bits of your culture that pinpoint what makes you YOU.

    07/26/12
    7:48 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you.

  • 07/24/12
    8:07 am

    Reply

    lauren said...

    I don’t mind that Swinton and Shipstead got it wrong for some, but that they imply it’s correct for all, otherwise known as stereotyping.

    here i don’t follow; how is it that they imply it’s correct for all? why must we assume that swinton’s character is all women in her position (note, as well, that the character’s choices probably weren’t up to the actress; i think you’re arguing that the director and/or screenwriter got emma’s choices “wrong” there), or that shipstead’s patriarch is all patriarchs?

    just as i think it’s dangerous to imply that these artists are making generalizations about classes and communities based on individual works, i think one must be careful in criticism that touches on one’s own experience to acknowledge that a characterization can feel wrong to you without actually being wrong. i think that you can speak for many WASPs, but i think it’s impossible for you or anyone to speak for all of them. characters can be flat, and they can be implausible, but in asking them to cleave to your experience you’re asking them to be stereotypes of another sort. we counter those stories not by disputing artistic choices (these things were mapped and done to death centuries before updike or wharton, if we’re going to get technical; there is nothing new under the sun), but by telling stories of our own.

    07/24/12
    8:18 am
    kathy said...

    Beautifully written and expressed. I also totally agree with what you’ve said.

    07/24/12
    9:50 am
    materfamilias said...

    Kathy’s and Lauren’s responses sum up very well what I would say in response to your post, Lisa. I recorded my own response to I am Love way back in this post:http://materfamiliasknits.blogspot.ca/2010/09/i-am-clothes-music-food.html
    I can see why you might feel offended at the depiction, if you see it as attempting to represent High Wasp. I didn’t read it that way and would need another viewing or two to even consider that possibility.
    I thought the cinematography was stunning, particularly the “sex in the meadow” scene, however foolish that might have seemed from a Realism perspective. The John Adams score coupled (ahem) with the camerawork. . . astonishing. But I wonder if that could have been experienced appropriately on a smaller screen.
    I did feel the story/script itself was the weakest part of the film. Made me want to go back and reread Effie Briest . . .

    07/24/12
    10:06 am
    M said...

    Very well said, Lauren.

    07/26/12
    7:53 am
    Lisa said...

    Has the woman ever written anything that wasn’t well said?:)

    07/26/12
    7:49 am
    Lisa said...

    As discussed elsewhere, just replace High WASP with another class or segment, and this argument of mine will make much more sense. I’m also WAY stretching my argument to include I Am Love – due I’m sure to having just finished Seating Arrangements when I saw the move.

  • 07/24/12
    8:11 am

    Reply

    alh said...

    Very Nice Post.

    In” Age of Innocence”, the various “societies” (old New York, new New York, really new New York, and old Europe) clash. They sometimes project the values and prejudices of their own group onto other groups, leading to misunderstanding and conflict. Rebecca West does the same thing in “There is no Conversation.” It is a huge part of Proust. I like that sort of story better than one told solely from an insider or outsider point of view. I don’t mind the stereotyping if it is off-set.

    It doesn’t seem to me there is any new story to be told, though I am always on the look out for an author telling the old story in new way.

    “I am Love” was only interesting to me for the lovely settings and clothing. Yes, she would have taken the jewelry if it was realistic. But it was a total fantasy, right?

    I haven’t read the book.

    07/26/12
    7:50 am
    Lisa said...

    I agree, Age of Innocence, taking both the insider and the outsider view, does it best.

  • 07/24/12
    8:17 am

    Reply

    Fuji said...

    “primary stereotypes of privileged European-derived families”

    I’ve found there are much less differences among the privileged of varying cultures than there are differences between economic classes within a single culture. Privileged Indian/Chinese/American/French families share many of the same “first world problems” – more alike that different. However, the same privileged families have yawning chasms between themselves and those lower down the economic scale within their own counties.

    07/26/12
    7:59 am
    Lisa said...

    Very interesting. I would love to see someone study this.

  • 07/24/12
    8:35 am

    Reply

    Mise said...

    A big jerk? My dear, you are the princess of non-jerkdom, the only reliable commentator on the nuances of the way it is.

    07/26/12
    7:59 am
    Lisa said...

    xoxox

  • 07/24/12
    8:41 am

    Reply

    The Preppy Princess said...

    Very well put, especially with such a dicey topic. Like you and many others I am so tired of the stereotyping and the perpetuation of same, to the point of being a total Crankenstein about it.

    This one is really, really good. :)
    tp

  • 07/24/12
    8:58 am

    Reply

    British Columbian said...

    Interesting comments on I Am Love. I have seen the film but reading your perspective I suddenly realised the occasional differences between Canadians and Americans.

    Many parts of British Columbia and Canada in general have distinct WASP centres (Victoria and West Vancouver come to mind). For all of our ‘democratic socialism’ there is still a bit of a class system in Canada. A frugal one with British traditions, but it’s there if you scratch the surface a bit.

    It is also a reserved one. Tilda’s character in I Am Loved is reserved. That behaviour seemed natural to me.

    Agree with you about the rolling about in the cave a bit, though. Was a bit of a stretch.

    07/26/12
    7:50 am
    Lisa said...

    Hehe.

  • 07/24/12
    8:59 am

    Reply

    Susan Partlan said...

    I’m still chuckling at “tiny rages” and tilting a bit from all of the Italics, but I agree with what you say about stereotypes and support your right to protest. The treatment of privilege in contemporary (i.e. postmodern) fiction and film doesn’t ring true for me in most cases. But now I can’t wait to read Tad’s book!

  • 07/24/12
    9:20 am

    Reply

    DocP said...

    I’m not familiar with either of these works. I did read Tad Friend’s book. My only frame of reference is all of the medically themed books, TV shows and movies. Even with advisers on set, they usually don’t ring true in the small details. Accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of drama. Non fiction/documentaries are better, but no two people experience their culture in exactly the same way down to the small details.

  • 07/24/12
    9:23 am

    Reply

    MJ said...

    Suddenly today everything in your blog, except the first part of the title, is appearing in italics on my screen. I at first thought that you wrote in italics to convey the urgency of your feelings. I must admit that I am somewhat relieved that that apparently is not the case. I appreciate your sensitivities.

    07/26/12
    7:51 am
    Lisa said...

    Sorry about that:). Fixed it.

  • 07/24/12
    10:01 am

    Reply

    alh said...

    a couple more random thoughts (because I really did enjoy this post) – I am Love seems to me a fantasy in the same way House of Mirth does; neither Emma nor Lily is really a believable character in my opinion. The setting is just a framework for some sort of moral fable. maybe. I’m not a very astute reader. This post also made me remember seeing Crimes of the Heart, when it first came out, with my parents who were incensed by the Southern Gothic elements. “This is how the rest of the world sees us. How insulting!” I kept arguing for it being a black comedy, rather coincidentally set in our neck of the woods. Though I did think the decor and clothing absolutely wonderfully perfect. My parents probably not so much.

    07/25/12
    6:55 am
    Flo said...

    “…my parents who were incensed by the Southern Gothic elements. ‘This is how the rest of the world sees us. How insulting!’”

    I never fully realized the stigma of my being southern until my northern cousins [whom my sibs and I had never met] suddenly announced they were coming to the area on a vacation, and could we meet. We met, we spent a few days doing things here and there, they could not contain their surprise, their DELIGHT that we 3 could speak in complete sentences down in this part of the country, that we could handle more than one thought in our minds at a time, that we had actually read a book, and where was our accent they demanded to know. I’m going overboard at their expense but they did confess to assigning the full underprivileged stereotype to us from their New England perch. I had never personalized the stereotype from reading or film, but having it so blatantly assigned to me by people who’d obviously felt superior, realizing it had been believed without knowledge, well this made quite an impression!

    07/26/12
    7:52 am
    Lisa said...

    I think this is exactly it. It is supposed to be a moral fable, and it’s one without an emotional heart, to my way of thinking. Other commenters have proved me wrong, however. The Russian culture I had not considered enough.

  • 07/24/12
    10:15 am

    Reply

    Miranda said...

    I have been a huge fan Tilda Swinton since I saw her in the movie “Orlando” in 1992(a must see), so when I came across “I Am Love” I settled in for a good watch. Half way through I turned it off. I found the whole thing ridiculous and very unlikely. Other than her great clothes and some lovely art work I was very disappointed in the whole scenario.
    There were several other stereotypes being used as well as what you noted. Really disappointed in who ever wrote this script.
    Has anyone watched a really good movie lately?
    Miranda
    SF Bay Area

    07/26/12
    7:54 am
    Lisa said...

    No good movies! Boo!

  • 07/24/12
    10:20 am

    Reply

    hostessofthehumblebungalow said...

    Oh dear I am clutching my throat while reading “Pearls, those harbingers of doom”
    I haven’t seen the film, but now I want to watch it.
    Obviously they missed the mark by not having a WASP on the writing or editing staff. You have written this post with so much passion I feel your pain.

  • 07/24/12
    10:22 am

    Reply

    Stephanie @ La Dolce Vita said...

    “But it feels dreadful when your own details are used as commodity symbols.” This is it, exactly. And even more dreadful when they use the wrong details, and hold them up as true, as the stereotype.
    Thank you for your well wishes. I’m far from 100% but am on the road to recovery.

  • 07/24/12
    10:28 am

    Reply

    Parnassus said...

    You raise an interesting and valid point. We are offended when we encounter Black, Asian and other stereotypes, and should feel the same when we see “elitist” ones such as the recent examples you describe.

    Good writers should work to create interesting, complex characters, and not rely on stereotypical, cardboard ones.
    –Road to Parnassus

  • 07/24/12
    10:51 am

    Reply

    Marcela said...

    Your post reminded me of a wonderful TED talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichié, entitled ” The danger of a single story” http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
    I find that stereotypes are hurtful, indeed, because they make us, the real us, invisible. As Chimamanda Adichié says: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

    07/26/12
    8:02 am
    Lisa said...

    Such a great link. Thank you.

  • 07/24/12
    12:22 pm

    Reply

    M said...

    Forgive me Lisa, English is my second language… But, but..Emma is a Russian woman, her upbringing was probably very different then that of the rest of her family.
    Watching the movie, I felt that she was breaking free in in more ways than one.

    07/26/12
    8:03 am
    Lisa said...

    Yes. This was a point I missed, and thank you for pointing it out.

  • 07/24/12
    12:59 pm

    Reply

    Melissa @ I Pick Pretty said...

    Though I don’t hail from high WASPS, I can relate to the more universal sentiment here of someone getting the details wrong, using a culture as props without digging in to its true meaning.

    It’s funny, this reminds me of a book I read recently (“The Starboard Sea” – don’t bother, but I include the title here for thoroughness’ sake), where I distinctly thought at one point I’d appreciate your point of view on it. Somehow it felt like a pastiche aiming to take down the culture it wasn’t quite condemning versus an accurate representation of actual living, breathing people.

    Thank you for the Tad Friend recommendation, which I’m adding to my list right after I get to Cheever (finally).

  • 07/24/12
    1:06 pm

    Reply

    Highland Fashionista said...

    I have not yet seen this movie, though I have been wanting to. My next move (after leaving this comment) will be to add it to my LoveFilm (UK version of Netflix) queue. I admit, I may be wanting to see it for the clothes more than anything else. Shallow? Perhaps. But the stereotype thing. There is probably an element of it that feels personal to you. When Fargo came out (my neck of the woods), midwesterners were upset at the comedic portrayal of what they thought was a twee, dorky portrayal. We have portrayed Southerners for ages as hicks, Clansmen, and trailer trash. Being an American expat, I get asked on a weekly basis various and sundry questions (often in a rather “J’accuse” kind of way) about Americans and their affinity for guns, violence, obesity, about the elections, Iraq….all the sort of in-your-face American things that they see in the media. I think these one-dimensional portrayals make it to the screen not because the writers underestimate the characters (in your case the high WASP) but rather they underestimate the audience’s ability to realise that no person has only one or two facets.

  • 07/24/12
    1:09 pm

    Reply

    Jan's Sushi Bar said...

    I am a Texan. I am smiling (wryly); I understand your stereotyping ire. I also dislike the term “first world problems” A LOT. You aren’t starving in some mud hut in Ethiopia, so you don’t get to have problems or worries, much less vent about them? Please.

  • 07/24/12
    1:15 pm

    Reply

    mags said...

    Wow! Where was I for the 1/5/12 discourse?!? With every comment, I felt my chest tightening into my throat. Remembering all too well the chiding I got as a child for improper associations. Very uncomfortable then and now.

  • 07/24/12
    1:25 pm

    Reply

    mademarian said...

    Well, I can relate. Haven’t seen those two particular films but know the feeling. It happened to me with a European film that shows the building of a choir from humble foundations right up to the choir leader’s Christification – I choose that to be a word. I have a lot of experience with this lay artistic scene and every event in this film rings untrue to me, not because it couldn’t happen, but because it does not arise from the story but from the director’s need to indoctrinate. Heavy stereotyping and lots of wellmeaning ensue where it would have been interesting to watch complexity and ambivalence – as befitting art – unfold. I felt cheapened.

    The trouble is that people around me love that thing and I can’t count the number of confrontations that has caused. Even artists I respect don’t see what I see which is exploitation.

    07/26/12
    8:04 am
    Lisa said...

    Stereotypes leave out ambiguity and ambivalence. And doesn’t all meaning live there?

  • 07/24/12
    1:37 pm

    Reply

    Flo said...

    “But it feels dreadful when your own details are used as commodity symbols.”

    “Your own details.” Like they stole something that belongs to you? Is that what you mean? And everytime you notice it whether in books or the theatre, you re-experience the injustice of the theft/rage again and again? If so, then yes that is a highly-charged personalized response, there might be more meaning there to discover. I wonder if this symbolic “theft” is representing another actual “theft” you’ve experienced in your life, ie if a person befriended you [or refused to befriend you] based on a presumption about what your details represented/promised. I’m probably far off base, just trying to track your rage as it seems to have more juicy stuff behind it than a grudge against stereotypes.

    07/26/12
    8:05 am
    Lisa said...

    No, no theft. Just misrepresentation of something that we kept private. Imagine you keep something private, and then when the world takes it out, it’s all misrepresented. You stay quite for a while and then you get into a tiny rage.

    07/26/12
    11:02 am
    Flo said...

    “No, no theft. Just misrepresentation of something that we kept private. Imagine you keep something private, and then when the world takes it…”

    I know I’m born and bred in the deep South, but I would call that the very definition of theft!

    A tardy word of thanks to you, LPC. This has been one of your more chewy posts, I’ve loved reading what you said all 6 times I reread it, and the comments as well. You really know how to throw a party!

  • 07/24/12
    1:57 pm

    Reply

    Sylvie said...

    I saw I am Love several months ago. LOVED the visuals (the clothes, the needlework, the furnishings). The storyline was not particularly interesting to me. The movie reminded me of “Belle de Jour” – classic film from the 1960′s that stars Catherine Deneuve as the “upperclass” wife of a doctor. Boredom takes Deneuve’s character to an icky place. Again, the weak/awful plot is forgiven because the clothes and interiors a-mazing! Even after 40 years. I guess that’s what makes it classic. With both movies, the stories ended up being of little-no interest to me. In the end, both (plots and wives) were actually a little confusing and quite annoying.

    Still, I highly recommend Belle De Jour and I am Love – not for the stories or the troubled paths taken by each upperclass wife, but – to see the stuff.

    Also, I don’t mind the repetition of theme. I for one loved the movie Clueless and how it parallelled Jane Austen’s Emma.

    BTW, I read Cheerful Money a couple of years ago. It was a delight. Characters, environment, emotional situations – all quite interesting to me.

    Perhaps because I am neither High nor-WAS(although I am P), I took no offense. But, I certainly can see how one in your place might.

    I look forward to reading Seating Arrangments. Thank you for the review.

  • 07/24/12
    3:05 pm

    Reply

    Linnet said...

    I’m not sure “high WASP” describes either Emma or the Italian family she married into. For one thing, they’re not WASPs. Different culture entirely, I would say.

    07/24/12
    3:48 pm
    Flo said...

    Exactly.

    Tilda/Emma is an immigrant, she’s the great literary device of ‘a stranger comes to town [Milan]‘ with surefire fireworks to follow, so it’s plausible [to me] that T. focused solely/blindly on raising her children until her children were grown, which is where the story begins.

    Moreover, the Marisa Berenson mother-in-law takes more than one opportunity to marginalize Tilda as the outsider; outside the family code of silence/behavior/loyalty, yet she tried to hold Tilda to the loyalty expected of the family women [at the lunch]. She failed spectacularly, as she saw in the post-lunch scene in the alleyway.

    With Tilda taken as an outsider from another culture and code altogether, I find it entirely plausible that she take the book, leave the jewelry, and romp in the meadow, she is not of the code that Marisa represents, she doesn’t hold textile money holy. What was the tripwire event? Some say it was the daughter’s outing, I think the wire was drawn taut from the start.

    07/24/12
    4:56 pm
    kathy said...

    Also agree completely with Flo’s comments.

    07/25/12
    9:05 am
    Ida said...

    Exactly what I was thinking,pleased you made the point.Ida

    07/25/12
    9:06 am
    Ida said...

    Linnet,exactly what I thought.Ida

  • 07/24/12
    3:08 pm

    Reply

    Susan said...

    I’ve missed your posts on this topic–and the spirited comments that always follow. So—please continue to write on this topic. We demand it!

    Meanwhile, I want to see the movie mentioned.

    07/26/12
    8:06 am
    Lisa said...

    Thanks. It takes a lot of emotional stamina, I admit, because I know it’s not me at my best when I have these feelings. So I appreciate the encouragement.

  • 07/24/12
    3:08 pm

    Reply

    Jean S said...

    Haven’t seen the movie; haven’t read the book. Have fended off many an assumption in my day, as I am from Miami and my parents (and multiple generations back) were Southeners. (A former friend here in Portland never used to miss an opportunity to make snarky comments about me being from the South.) Oh, and I live in a Portland suburb that riles the hipsters right on up, as there are folks here with serious money. (Not everyone, of course, but if you’re going for stereotypes, why quibble?)

    That’s the thing about the broad brush: It’s sloppy and crude.

    Keep the faith!

  • 07/24/12
    3:59 pm

    Reply

    Sheryl said...

    I don’t think it’s really ok to seriously stereotype anyone. It takes away all human nuance and individuality and uniqueness.

    07/26/12
    8:07 am
    Lisa said...

    xox

  • 07/24/12
    4:07 pm

    Reply

    RoseAG said...

    Someplace I clipped out a list of summer reading and “Seating Arrangements” was on it. Since it’s still summer and I’ve polished off my other books I’ll go looking for that.

    Your review has reignited my interest – great job!

  • 07/24/12
    5:02 pm

    Reply

    Loretta said...

    I do not come from High-Wasp culture, I come from third generation Italian American culture, but I had the EXACT same reaction you did to the book. The whole time I was reading it, I was annoyed. I forced myself to finish reading it because a good friend, whose reading opinions I adore, recommended it. She hadn’t read it but thought I’d enjoy since we’d just given a wedding at a summer home in New England. Au contraire, unfortunately. Honestly, not only has it been done to the T by writers far more talented, but the bicycle crash, the prescription pills doled out by the wedding coordinator (we must have not paid for that level of service from our wedding cordinator, the inability to get it up on the bathroom floor, PLUS a fall from a roof?

    I thought the subject matter so dated and it so odd to have been written by a young woman that I kept flipping to the back to look at the author’s profile to confirm that she indeed was a young woman and not a late-middle aged man. I would have much preferred to find out what was going on in that wife’s head all these years besides what colors the flowers should be.

    07/26/12
    8:08 am
    Lisa said...

    See, I feel better about my reactions if you share them – that it’s not just me being prickly and personal:).

    07/29/12
    8:39 am
    Flo said...

    ” – that it’s not just me being prickly and personal”

    Claim that prickly personal self! We love that prickly personal you!

    In fact, you’ve just penned an excellent subtitle:

    LPC: prickly and personal

    Check out Susan Cheever on Daily Beast today. She has the nerve to say Shipstead’s details are accurate. I don’t think I trust her at all. Not any.

  • 07/25/12
    9:10 am

    Reply

    That's Not My Age said...

    Thought Tilda was fabulous in I am Love. And I swooned over her Raf Simons’ wardrobe. Searched high & low for a pair of (more reasonably priced) orange pants afterwards.

    Love the way Richard Ford writes.

  • 07/25/12
    9:48 am

    Reply

    La said...

    Thank you for sharing. You have helped me realize that much of my angst comes from my New England WASP background. Although we did not have a fortune in the family, many of the expectations and hypocrisy were the same. I live in a rural west coast community now and as age advances, I feel the differences very acutely. I still correspond with several friends and relatives back East but find the communication gap is getting uncomfortably wider. I’m not really into clothing any longer, but do find your suggestions helpful when I must make an appearance. Your suggestions remind me of what was appropriate. Again, I appreciate your insights and openness.

    07/26/12
    8:08 am
    Lisa said...

    It is my pleasure to have you as a reader.

  • 07/26/12
    11:38 am

    Reply

    Cola said...

    While I can understand Emma leaving with nothing, the part of I Am Love that absolutely did not ring true is in the climactic scene where Emma did not jump into the pool after her son. No matter how damaged their relationship, she would have jumped in hoping against hope that what just happened did not. Privileged, or not, she was still a mother and neither the shock, nor her evening dress, would have kept her out of the pool. She would have jumped in! Otherwise, loved the movie.

  • 07/26/12
    11:59 am

    Reply

    Jen said...

    I recently read “Seating Arrangements.” I had difficulty at first finding a somewhat likable character. I couldn’t stand Richard. In the end, I found his believed-to-be rival one of the more likable people. It was an okay book. I’m intrigued by “I Am Love.” I may need to see that down the road. Hope you are having a good summer!

  • 07/27/12
    7:56 am

    Reply

    alh said...

    Intrigued, I skimmed “Seating Arrangements” yesterday. In my opinion, a beach read. Interesting it got you so riled up. However I’m trying to see where you are coming from. A while back I was up in arms about “The Help” and even put my foot firmly in my mouth, criticizing the author for appropriating another’s voice, at a dinner party with a writer who has repeatedly done much the same. However, he does it really, really well and it never even occurred to me to compare his writing with hers because his is just so very very good. Now I’m wondering if my objection was really to the stereotypes in the first book which were, to my mind, really, pretty awful.

  • 07/27/12
    8:24 am

    Reply

    sisty said...

    Have very mixed feelings about “I Am Love,” and haven’t read Seating Arrangements. Although I wouldn’t commit murder for that opera-length string of multicolored pearls in the first photo, I’d come close! And I guess that explains the difference between Emma and me.

  • 07/28/12
    6:22 am

    Reply

    Duchesse said...

    Don’t forget that Swinton’s character loses a child. Next to that, losing jewelry or one’s luxurious home is nothing. Nothing. Any mother, WASP or not, will understand that.

  • 08/06/12
    2:35 pm

    Reply

    Lindy said...

    I read Seating Arrangements this weekend and thought of you while reading it. While many of the party details rang true, I felt the people in the book were merely caricatures who became tiresome toward the end. I wouldn’t recommend it.

  • 08/09/12
    8:41 am

    Reply

    Simona said...

    Hi Lisa, I am writing from Milan Italy. I have tried to follow the comments, some got the point, not to criticise, but I am love is highly Italian, northern industrialist family, made money. It depicts the worst of the Catholic (not prrotestant) rich culture. Probably this is the reason why in Italy it was not much successful, as usual we do not like to see our worst traits publicly displayed.
    I always enjoy your blog

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