February 14: “A Wedding Story” by Debra Spark

Happy Valentine’s Day! Hopefully, you’re not reading my blog today, but are stretched out on a bed, feeding chocolate-covered strawberries to your lover, layering them with kisses and caresses, never breaking eye contact as you melt deeper and deeper into each other’s souls, your bodies, minds, and spirits as one, a deluge of fruity-chocolatey romantic soldering. If someone were to view you through the skylight from a circling helicopter, all they should see is flesh, not knowing where one person ends and the other begins, green, star-shaped stems and smears of chocolate on silken burgundy sheets the only evidence that your jumble of sin is at all human, not the gods Venus and Rati joining in perfect celestial bliss.

Or, like, whatever you’re into.

If not, I’ve provided the next-best thing here, a blog post about a romantic story. I searched my queue a bit for something that, by its titled, implied romance, and it wasn’t long before I discovered today’s entry, “A Wedding Story” by Debra Spark from her collection The Pretty Girl. If you’re alone, if you’re loving someone from afar, if you’re in prison and you only get fifteen minutes a week online, or if you’re taking a break from passionate coupling, giving your body time to recover, reading this post is the best way I can think of to fill those gaps.

The ironic thing is, “A Wedding Singer” isn’t really that romantic for the majority of the story. If a story about a wedding fits the general expectations, there would be a short courtship between two lovers (including some of the stuff I mention above), then a lot of planning, the ceremony almost derailed by all the variables until everything magically works out in the end, a beautiful, touching ceremony climaxed by a shot of the happy couple embracing, kissing, eye-gazing. It’s not that “A Wedding Story” doesn’t deliver a lot of that, it just doesn’t touch on it for the first thirty-five pages or so. Instead, it tells the story of how the happy couple came to know each other. Hint: Only half of said happy couple, our protagonist, Rachel, is in the story for its majority. It’s still great, just not uber-sweet and sexy on every page, in case that’s what you’re looking for today, to, uh, inspire your inner Cupid—you might have to skip to the end for that part, or just look up something on the Internet.

Most of the story is actually about Rachel dealing with the death of her grandmother, Mamie, her soul mate in the family, and her grief’s physical manifestation, Rabbi Simon, the tiny, tiny rabbi Rachel finds inside a chocolate egg in Mamie’s apartment. Yep, there’s like a one-inch rabbi in this story who serves as Rachel’s spiritual guide (as well as the story’s comic relief). The first couple of pages, Spark establishes these eggs, something Rachel once bought in London as souvenirs for her nephews. The hollow eggs usually contain a little toy like a top or a plastic monster figure, but Mamie’s egg has Simon Baal Shem (loosely based on Baal Shem Tov, the miracle-working Holy One from Jewish Scripture). Rabbi Simon serves as Rachel’s advisor through this tough time in her life, offering constant advice, living inside her purse and pockets, perhaps more her conscience than her teacher, if we’re pinpointing metaphor.

Rachel and Simon work their way through Rachel’s life, which, during the event of this story, is dealing with Mamie’s estate and trying to relate to her sister Greta and her dick husband, who judge her for being not them. Simon continues his adventures as her pint-sized companion, reeling off parable after parable for Rachel to decipher. Rachel tries her hardest to connect her daily circumstances to these lessons, and sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not. The point is, she’s trying, and as Spark works her way through Rachel’s routine, we see that, more and more, Rachel is alone, that this is where a lot of her unhappiness lies. Enter, eventually, Jeremy, a gravestone engraver introduced by a man introduced to Rachel by Simon, as much matchmaker as well as prophet and sound board. It’s a fun trip that Simon takes Rachel on, and we the reader, as well as Rachel, get used to him being there, telling us where we’re at, where we need to be. Isn’t that what spiritual advice really is, always there, on our shoulder, in our pocket, forming our decisions?

So, “A Wedding Story” is a love story, no doubt, and as mentioned before, it’s a wonderful story, full of humor, magic, symbolism, and patience. I’m looking forward to delving into The Pretty Girl even deeper, to see what else Spark does, particularly in the title novella. In the meantime, happy Valentine’s Day to you all. Be ready for that helicopter, too: The people inside are expecting greatness.

Debra Spark

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