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The Bride is Wearing White, and a Bomb

A Rutgers–Camden novelist explodes wedding and literary traditions in new novel based in Haddonfield.

Even if it brings good luck, no bride wants rain the day she says “I do.”

But inclement weather is the least of Haddonfield native Tess Nathanson’s wedding-day worries. A mad downpour would be welcome compared to the madwoman holding the low-key backyard affair hostage in Love Bomb (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a new novel due out Sept. 4 by celebrated Rutgers–Camden author Lisa Zeidner.

Zeidner’s fifth novel introduces a postmodern kind of bride: one who is not only uninvited, but is wielding a gas mask and sawed-off shot gun. The question “Will this marriage survive?” is quickly replaced with “Will we survive this ceremony?” by a hearty cast of characters that includes scores of psychiatrists, world travelers, a celebrity couple and family members of the bride and groom awkwardly meeting for the first time.

The novel, both funny and moving, is heavily plotted and fast-paced—a literary page-turner. With its large cast, it is also drastically different from her acclaimed novel Layover, which followed one woman’s heartache through a curiously extended hotel stay. "The fun of being a novelist is getting to enter very different worlds. Layover was totally interior, and this novel has a lot of action, but both novels are ultimately concerned with character and motivation—why people do what they do,” says the veteran author, who has taught creative writing at Rutgers–Camden since 1979.

Hardly an easy attack on marriage, Love Bomb challenges the whodunit genre with tender and entertaining insight into the fragility of love and life. The book also challenges many suppositions about gender differences. Not only does the hostage taker plan an attack that is distinctly “unfeminine,” but the novel’s other main character—the bride’s psychologist-mother—proves more effective at disarming the terrorist than any of the tough men.

A novel that took some six years to write, Zeidner says the image of a bride in a gas mask came to her first, but for a long time she was in the dark about the terrorist’s identity.  "I didn't know who she was, but I knew I didn’t want her to be typical...I was also still haunted by 9/11. The way we perceive daily safety has been dramatically altered and the least likely place I could think of for a terrorist attack was Haddonfield," says the current Cherry Hill resident.

Her own experience of living in Haddonfield with her husband and son for a decade provided her with details of suburban life that no outsider could conjure. Love Bomb abounds with witty social commentary about race and class, and how those issues play out in South Jersey.

Where research was needed was in weaponry and SWAT procedures in Camden County. But the novelist didn't have to look past her own classroom for input on law enforcement: Jay McKeen, an MFA student in creative writing at Rutgers–Camden, is a retired chief of police in Hamilton Township.

With McKeen’s connections, Zeidner's research took her to a firing range where she admits to performing poorly. "It was loud and smelled funny; it's just not my milieu," she recalls. She did equally badly following the SWAT team on a training mission—“I wore sandals. Bad move.”

Zeidner notes that "In the movies, SWAT just bursts through the door, but that’s not how it goes in real life. I did a ridiculous amount of research, which can be a way of avoiding writing the book, but I really wanted to be realistic." Her research, laced delicately throughout the book, includes actual crimes committed in South Jersey.

This summer’s Batman attack in Aurora, CO, tragically compounded Zeidner’s observations on the very real connections between violence and entertainment.

"Aurora is only one in a series of events of random violence where the perpetrators were very aware of how their event played on camera—or in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter, on the  Web. One thing that I wanted to make clear with Love Bomb is that while we endlessly watch people shot on TV, in movies, and in video games, most of us haven't experienced violence first-hand. So I really wanted to get at how such events feel ‘on the ground,’ rather than in the movies,” Zeidner says.

While the hijacked wedding is an unusual setting, the novel still artfully unearths the everyday tensions of marriage, parenthood, suburban life, and how love—romantic or familial—can be a powerful thing indeed.

"There are just as many devoted, happy couples in the novel as those that are struggling or dysfunctional," the Rutgers–Camden writer says. "I see it as a hopeful novel."

Zeidner is a professor of English at Rutgers–Camden, where she founded the MFA program in creative writing. She has published four novels, including the critically acclaimed Layover, and two books of poetry. Her stories, reviews, and essays have appeared in The New York Times, GQ, Tin House and Slate.

She is scheduled to read with Rutgers–Camden New Voices Professor Paul Lisicky on Sept. 12 at Rutgers–Camden and at the Philadelphia Free Library on Sept. 21.

For more information, visit lisazeidner.com.

-- From Rutgers University's Media Relations Office

 

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