Iris, mother of the bride, is pushy, ambitious, Jewish, overpresent, and proud of her Red Hook genealogy, which can be traced back to the Battle of the Bulge. But Iris is not exactly a local. Yes, every summer Iris comes back to the oceanfront Queen Anne house, chats up the Red Hook Ladies, attending “every last bean supper and blueberry breakfast of the season,” where she tries to befriend the wives of lobstermen by feigning enthusiasm for rummage sales. But every Fall, Iris returns to New York, to art and to work, and will never, in the eyes of the locals, be anything but a “from away”.
Iris’ father, Mr Kimmelbroad, is indeed “from away”: a real gentleman, a refugee violinist from Prague who still smells of polished wood, rosin, violets and 4711 Kolnisch Wasser. The family are immigrants: bustling, displaced, well educated.
Jane, mother of the groom, is a local: by temperament, by income and by genealogy. Jane is strong from “clomping up and down stairs and hauling laundry and vacuum cleaners.” Jane has been taking care of houses for the “from aways” for a long long time, as had her mother before her. One of these houses is Iris’, which she cleans in the summers and tends all year long.
She [would get] the furnace and the propane tank filled, turn on the water, take down the storm windows and put up the screens, mow the meadow and lawn, replace the water filter, have the piano tuned, and replenish staples like flour, sugar and the fancy teas ….
The story begins in the middle of the wedding, detailing the profusions of fresh flowers, mismatched vases, white lace tablecloths, blues band, bar, hanging lanterns, crab-cakes and lobster puffs and champagne of the reception at Grange Hall, where the mothers find out that the bride and groom are dead. What becomes of the mothers and their other children is part of the story of the wedding, because the wedding joins not only the bride and groom but the mothers; makes them, in Yiddish, Machatainisteh.