Les and Leslie Parrott-a married pair of marriage counselors-have pointed out that many engaged couples spend more time planning their weddings than they do planning their marriages. Amanda Beesley's autobiographical account of her engagement and first year of marriage to Nicky, an aspiring writer like Amanda, offers all the proof the Parrott's need.

"Something New: Reflections on the Beginnings of Marriage" began as a column in Self magazine, in which Beesley kept a diary of her first year with Nicky. But here Beesley backs up to the engagement, showing the happy couple dwelling endlessly on picking the proper flower arrangements, choosing the proper script for the wedding invitations, even securing Port-a-johns for the reception. Such is the monotony of these details that the reader welcomes the harrowing but riveting passages about Beesley's mother, diagnosed with dementia a few days before the engagement. Amanda herself concedes that the wedding seems to have taken over the marriage: "The fact that I was about to make an irrevocable promise to spend the rest of my life with Nicky," she writes, "was entirely subsumed by the meticulous planning of the wedding."

Amanda does eventually turn her mind to the step she's about to take. At her bachelorette party, Amanda and her girlfriends debate whether one can state with absolute certainty that they will not cheat on their husbands. The bride comes down in the negative, declaring, "the real world isn't that cut-and-dried." But once safely home again, Amanda sees "how devastating infidelity would be," and changes her mind. If she and Nicky want to stay married, she affirms, "we're going to have to stick to the rules we make up at the beginning of our marriage."

Ambivalence is to expected in a person approaching marriage--just as a bride is expected to natter on about flower arrangements. But here ambivalence is all we get in they way of drama. On the way to meet Arlene, the pastor who will marry them, Nicky casually announces that he plans to ask her not to mention God in the ceremony.

Amanda is shocked. She tells Nicky he should have brought this up earlier. Though they are not normally churchgoers, Nicky and Amanda have earlier attended Arlene's church, where Amanda found herself "singing, praying, bawling my eyes out." Religion, she realizes, has a hold on her. But the doubts soon creep in. "I like the idea of going," she writes, "but I'm afraid of the slippery slope: first I'll start going to church every week, and then I'll get roped into joining the choir or the altar guild, and before I know it, I'll be one of those Church Ladies, ranting about Satan and video games." It is a tantalizing spectacle, one that might have made a better read, but Amanda never returns to the subject. Arlene happily obliges Nicky's request.

It's no wonder Amanda--and admittedly the reader--struggles to understand what exactly had changed after the exchange of godless vows. Beesley's repetitive ruminations about catering menus are replaced with repetitive ruminations about her and Nicky's first fight, their first move, their daily routine. It's a question Beesley, who shared an apartment with her mate for three years before they wed, raises time and again: you already know that he does sit-ups and drinks coffee every morning before turning to work; you've cleaned his hair out of your shower. Quite a lot is changed, she insists, but has trouble articulating just what it is.

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