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Wed Menace

[whitespace] Comic author Suzanne Finnamore on 'Runaway Bride,' divorce rituals, and why weddings are not romantic.

By David Templeton


Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This column is not a movie review; rather, it's a free-wheeling, tangential discussion of life, alternative ideas, and popular culture.

Suzanne Finnamore holds up three fingers--one for each year of her still newlywed-ish marriage. As she does so, her multi-diamond wedding ring sparkles in the moody light of this people-packed San Francisco pub, Liverpool Lil's.

Strangers from other tables turn their heads to look at the ring.

"Technically," Finnamore shouts, folding her fingers away and straining to be heard above the post-Happy Hour tumult all around us, "we won't be married three years until September 21--but I tend to round up."

She takes a sip of white wine.

"It's weird. As the product of a broken home, I always feel the specter of divorce hanging over my head," she says, managing to sound confessional and intimate while still making herself heard. "But I read somewhere that the divorce rate goes down dramatically after the first 40 years. Isn't that helpful? Hardly anyone gets divorced after being married for 40 years.

"So the way I look at it, I've got three years down and only 37 more to go--then I'm safe."

"Are you checking the years off on the wall somewhere?" I suggest.

"Oh, sure," she laughs. "Like a prisoner in a cell."

My guest is the author of Otherwise Engaged (Knopf; $22.00), a sharp-witted, very funny novel about marriage that plays like a series of clever one-liners disguised as an epic emotional journey. In the book, Eve--Finnamore's hyper-determined heroine--walks an emotionally rocky road from the moment of her engagement to the day of her wedding.

"Michael leaves his socks on the floor when he takes off his shoes," she writes. "This used to be fine. But now a sock on the floor isn't just a sock on the floor. It's a sock on the floor for the rest of my life."

Picked from the slush pile at Knopf--Finnamore closed the deal on the day she gave birth to her son, Pablo--the novel has hit the literary funny bone of men as well as women, and seems poised to become a runaway hit.

And speaking of runaways.

We've just divorced ourselves from a screening of Runaway Bride, the remarkably un-cynical--dare I say "sweet?"--comedy starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. In the film, she's a commitment-phobic charmer with a history of leaving men at the altar (literally; she's done it three times), and he's the newspaper columnist who's career depends on her doing it a fourth time.

Finnamore liked it.

"Though Richard Gere was playing a straight man who owned a cat," she says. "A straight man? With a cat? I'm sorry.

"Some things really did ring true, though," she allows. "Remember when Richard Gere is watching those videos of Julia Roberts' three 'almost-marriages?' You could see--especially in the second one--that she was visibly hyperventilating as she was walking down the aisle.

"That's exactly how I felt when I got married. I was a wreck. I didn't expect to be, but I was. The intensity of the moment overwhelmed me."

"Hmmmmm. Aren't weddings supposed to be romantic moments?" I ask. "Isn't romance kind of integral to the "perfect wedding" that you read about in Modern Bride Magazine?" Or see in Julia Roberts movies.

"Oh no! No!" Finnamore shouts "There's nothing romantic or intimate about a wedding. Once you have more than five or six people, it becomes a group event and you lose all hope of intimacy. To me a 'romantic moment' with my husband is just the two of us.

"It doesn't include a whole lot of other people. It doesn't include legally binding contracts, or caterers, or people in tight dresses and funny hats."

"I said something to my husband, just the other day," Finnamore relates, "and it really was, I felt, a landmark moment. Our son is now almost a year old, and we'd been having what we call 'an interesting week,' where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

"So I said to my husband, at the end of this long, tumultuous day, just before we went to bed, 'Well, I guess we're really married now.'"

A temporary decrease in the bar's volume allows Finnamore to lower her voice.

"It's weird. Three years of marriage," she murmurs, "and it wasn't until that moment, that very moment, that I finally felt like we were actually married."

"Is this 'married' in a good way?" I ask, carefully.

"Oh yeah, married in a good way," she nods, solidly. "But also married in a real way."

"I don't think you really get married on the day of the wedding," she expounds. "You have an opportunity to start working toward a marriage at that point, but I don't think the marriage actually occurs until later."

"In my opinion, weddings are one of the few public rituals that we have left in our society. I mean, what else have we got? There are no more public hangings. Weddings are about it, right?"

"Funerals," I mention.

"Okay. Weddings and funerals," Finnamore says. "But people mostly just get cremated now--then there's a little wine and cheese thing afterwards, so even funerals are going the way of the dodo. Pretty soon, weddings will be all we have left.

"Well, weddings and divorces," she says sitting up straight. "Divorces are now more common than funerals, aren't they? What we need is some really fun ritual to accompany our divorces. There's no divorce cake. There's no divorce shower. There's no divorce rehearsal or rehearsal dinner. It's really a shame."

"What about a public sock-burning," I suggest.

"That could work," she laughs. "God knows we need something, cause as long as people keep getting engaged, people will keep on getting divorced."

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From the date-date, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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