Today's wedding industry, however, operates at a level of sophistication and with a degree of magnitude that it makes the wedding industry of 1950s seem quaint by comparison. Wedding-related marketing is everywhere, from "buff bride" workout routines ensuring upper-arm definition fit for a strapless gown to home equity lines of credit offered to a couple -- or to their parents -- as a means of affording an otherwise unaffordable reception. The volume of wedding-related products urged upon the newly engaged bride and groom -- from the Yankee Candle Company's pillars scented with the company's proprietary Wedding Day fragrance to rice grains bred in the shape of hearts and crushable underfoot so as not to present a hazard to birds when thrown in the place of confetti -- is breathtaking. And the pressure to mount a wedding that is not merely a warm celebration among family and friends but is also a spectacular and original event -- one that promises to have family and friends talking about it for months afterwards -- is omnipresent, even for those whose budget or whose aspirations are modest, or who would like to think of themselves as eschewing wedding obsession.
It was my hope at the outset of reporting this book that by looking behind the scenes of the wedding industry and studying its grinding mechanic I might better understand why the American wedding is the way it is. But my interest in doing this was not, fundamentally, because I wanted to understand weddings themselves, which would be a limited if engaging goal. Nor was it because I wanted to malign the choices of individual brides and grooms. I enjoy a good wedding as much as the next person, and I have teared up even at ones I've attended -- in the course of reporting this book -- when the bride and groom have been strangers to me. I'm married, and I had a wedding of sorts myself, if not of the sort or on the scale prescribed by the wedding industry. (I'll come back to that later.) Weddings are fun: a chance to dance to familiar tunes, to treat the senses with fresh flowers, to wear something other than jeans for a change. But the real reason weddings are compelling is that they are riven with human drama. I will not soon forget the breathtaking sight of one friend, a strong-willed, beautiful woman, alone on the dance floor with her father, a powerful businessman with whom she had a tempestuous relationship, the two of them swirling passionately (there is no other word for it) to the theme tune from "The Godfather." Nor will I forget watching a crowd of stamping, cheering guests dancing the hora -- the circle dance that is a staple at Jewish celebrations -- for a quintessentially Waspy couple who had simply decided they liked the tradition and incorporated it into their wedding, which took place at the groom's family home by a pond in a private residential enclave of Long Island, a setting that might have come from "The Great Gatsby." The comedy and the pathos of family life are on display at a wedding, with short stories waiting to be written at every turn. I hope to be invited to many more of them.