I’m not a huge romance reader, but Sussman has the genre nailed, and she does it without a kilt wearing Scotsman or a bodice-clad damsel in distress.
A Wedding in Provence should make all readers fifty or older very happy. It is a mature love story between a divorced mother, Olivia, and her soon-to-be husband, Brody, surrounded by her two unmarried daughters, Carly and Nell, and her best friend from college days, Emily. No need for bodices or kilts. Olivia owns and manages a theatre company in San Francisco and Brody, “tall, lanky body, . . . strong hands, . . . crow’s-feet in the corner of his eyes,” has given up his veterinarian practice in the Big Skies of Wyoming to be with Olivia in San Francisco. Emily and her husband Sébastien have recently moved from their New York City home to live in Provence, where they’ve been restoring a family home (left to Sébastien when his mother died) into a B&B.
Emily and Sébastien have offered their charming maison and its beautiful grounds as a wedding venue for Olivia and Brody, believing it will be the perfect place for an intimate, family only, wedding. This is where Sussman takes romance to a level as mature as her protagonist. Bear in mind how volatile such an event can be. All families have their secrets and Olivia’s is no different: one daughter is in an insipid living-together relationship with a gentleman who will not be at the event. The other daughter, still grieving over the death of her last lover, arrives on the arm of the seatmate she has picked up on the long jet flight to France. The sisters are not friends. The coolness between them is the first indication that all is not well with Olivia’s family. Mom, though, is determined to be happy, and determined to have a happy family.
Family events like weddings can be difficult at best and seldom meet the high expectations of that member with a happily-ever-after agenda. Everybody arrives two days before the wedding. The hosts have excursions planned while a hired chef prepares for the dining and other pleasures of their guests. But it does not take long for this carefully planned idyll to unravel. A French woman comes to make trouble for Sébastien regarding an indiscretion Emily had not known about. Emily and Sébastien have only been living in France for a short time, but apparently time enough for her husband to do what he had never done in Manhattan.
The gentleman from the plane turns out to be a cad, not a gentleman at all, playing both sisters. Soon, long ago events surface — events which changed the relationship dynamics between not just the sisters, but also with their mother. It’s a read-in-one day book, and once again Sussman surprised me. She deals with important issues, both familial and otherwise, head-on, going deeper and deeper into each character, realistically moving her narrative into something richly rewarding. I was glad to be invited to A Wedding in Provence. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Ellen Sussman: The Paradise Guest House; French Lessons; On a Night Like This; Dirty Words, A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex.