REVIEW: Dragged to the Wedding by Andrew Grey
Dear Andrew Grey,
I generally like a fake relationship story. For me it’s the modern equivalent of a marriage of convenience in many ways and forced proximity usually means a lot of the love interests together which also suits me. But I probably didn’t think through where the premise of Dragged to the Wedding would inevitably take me. James Petika is a Chicago policeman who is going home to Missoula, Montana, to his sister’s wedding. He is gay but isn’t out to his very conservative family. His mother, in particular, is a force of nature and he wants to keep her off his back about “marrying a nice girl and settling down” while he’s home. His friend introduces him to “Daniella” – who turns out to be Daniel Bonafonte, an entertainer who performs as drag queen Lala Traviata. Daniel can tone down the drag makeup and pass as female and James ends up agreeing to pay Daniel $1,000 to be his fake date to the wedding, the festivities for which involve six days of family gatherings.
Daniel is not trans. When James introduces Daniella to his family he is not only lying to them about his relationship status, both he and Daniel are actively involved in a deception which can only end in tears once Daniel’s gender is revealed (and of course it will be). It’s one thing to pretend to be in a relationship but this deception takes things to another level. Had Daniel been trans and therefore actually been Daniella I would not have had this discomfort with the story – as Daniella would not have been lying about who she was. But Daniel is pretending to be a woman and it’s easy to see how James’s family would feel humiliated and hurt at being deceived that way. As I read through the book, my realisation crystallised of just how badly the people I was supposed to be rooting for were behaving.
I found the writing style generally choppy and there were a number of times when an idea was introduced that was never resolved. For instance:
James could not explain to his father exactly what was going on, and that was part of the problem. He didn’t know what was real and what was an act any longer. This was all his fault, and now he had to find his way through this minefield of dresses, makeup, and deception all on his own.
“Ah, I see,” his father whispered knowingly as he sat forward. “I thought that I recognized something was amiss. You’re not telling us everything about Daniella, are you? You know, if you look closely enough, it’s pretty obvious.” His gaze bored into James, and for an instant he felt completely exposed and vulnerable. A cold chill ran up his back, and James held his hands together just to keep them from shaking.
“I…” He opened his mouth to try to explain, but his father continued. This was his worst nightmare. James’s mind raced in a million directions at once.
His father looked toward the kitchen and motioned for James to come closer. “What were you thinking?” The tone was barely above a whisper and knife sharp, and James lowered his gaze. “I’m not stupid, and don’t think for a second that I condone this type of thing. Lying to your mother…”
“Dad, I… There are things that you don’t know.” The ground beneath his feet turned to quicksand in a second, his heart raced, and James could almost feel the end of his life with his family approaching like a freight train.
His father’s face transformed with a smile. “You really care for this girl,” he said. “I can see it.”
“What?” James tried to make his head shift gears in a second as relief warred with the idea that he should just come clean and tell his father everything.
I still do not know what James’s dad was actually on about and nothing in the text that followed told me. I had quite a few instances of mental whiplash where I asked myself “what just happened?” I felt like key information was missing. If it had been a paperback I would have been tempted to shake it to see if any extra pages fell out.
James’s mother, Grace, is something of a caricature but she’s also a bit inconsistently drawn. Every now and then she will come out with something positively risque or be permissive of something unexpected, but most of the time she’s the stereotypical “no sex before marriage” super conservative Christian often depicted in media (and often found in real life too if social media is anything to go by). She’s also a mother-of-the-bride-zilla. She changes the order of service to suit herself, she changes the wedding dress order (when the dress was one the bride did not super-love in the first place) so it does not fit. (Aside: what kind of wedding dress seller would allow that??) She did not truly deal with actual consequences for this outrageous behaviour either. Fortunately, Daniel is a whiz on a sewing machine and (
somewhat very unbelievably) he alters the oversized wedding gown in the space of 24 hours so it fits like a dream and James’s sister walks down the aisle as the princess she always wanted to be.
Between problems with the wedding and an obnoxious best man who keeps hitting on Daniella, a shady pastor and avoiding the truth coming out to James’s family, Daniel and James fight their burgeoning attraction. Well, they fight it for a while. Then they don’t. (Which, honestly, is fine.) It’s just that there’s an awful lot going on in a book which came in at 184 pages on my ereader. There were too many concepts and storylines for any of them to really get the attention they deserved and that included the romance.
And, when the big reveal inevitably occurred, neither James nor Daniel truly appreciated their own fault. James in particular leapt to blame his mother for being so demanding he felt forced to bring Daniel-dressed-as-Daniella to the wedding so really it’s all her own fault and then the conflict swiftly moves to being about Grace’s homophobia. Truly, I felt James and Daniel owed James’s family a very sincere, grovelling apology but it did not happen. And, then, everyone got over it way too quickly for it to be remotely realistic.
I won’t give away the ending but I found it only added to the unreality of it all.
There were things I did like. For instance, I liked how James, apart from their very first meeting, always saw through whatever Daniel was wearing to the man underneath. He was unashamedly attracted to Daniel whether he was wearing a dress and heels and full makeup, was in full drag regalia as Lala or, presenting as Daniel in a t-shirt and jeans. There was something about that I found charming because it was presented as him really seeing the person he cared for. James just saw Daniel. I liked that James was not only unfazed by dating a drag queen, he actively reveled in it. I liked how he only had admiration for Daniel’s talent and skill.
Unfortunately a lot of other things didn’t work for me and Dragged to the Wedding was a disappointment.