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Strangers at the Feast: A Novel Paperback – August 16, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439166986
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439166987
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An unhappy family creeps toward a violent tragedy in Vanderbes's misfired sophomore novel (after Easter Island). Every one of the Olsons who gather on Thanksgiving Day, 2007, has issues. Matriarch Eleanor, adrift after years of ministering to a husband who never recovered from his Vietnam war experience, is flummoxed by her children's choices: her unmarried college professor daughter, Ginny, has just adopted a mute Indian girl, and son Douglas is up to his neck in the real estate bubble, prompting the ire of his wife, Denise, who can barely stand the ineptitude of Ginny's attempt at cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Then there's Kijo, who is out for revenge after one of Douglas's real estate deals gets his grandmother's home condemned. When Ginny's oven fails and the Olsen family decamps to Denise and Douglas's McMansion, the catastrophe that ensues will, of course, change and bind the lives of everyone involved. But without the love story, historical intrigue, and exotic locale of Easter Island, Vanderbes spins her wheels on a toothless Corrections-lite family saga that winds its way to an ever-so-unlikely big bang conclusion.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In her second novel, Vanderbes (Easter Island, 2003) sets up a Thanksgiving Day showdown between a well-to-do family and the impoverished residents of a housing project. Anthropology professor and new mother Ginny Olson is hosting the Thanksgiving Day festivities for the first time. She has just returned from India, where she adopted a mute seven-year-old girl. Interactions with her family prove to be irritating as they lecture her on her disorganized hosting skills, and she lectures them on their woefully inadequate understanding of America’s bloody past, especially the genocidal overtones of the Thanksgiving holiday. The guests include her taciturn dad, her well-meaning but clueless mom, and her wealthy brother, whose overinvestment in an office project just as the real-estate downturn hit has made his wife one angry lady (her cold-eyed pragmatism provides much of the book’s entertainment value). A stove malfunction forces the family to move houses and sets them on an inevitable collision course with two young black men. Vanderbes lays on the cultural ironies a little too thickly in what is otherwise an inventively plotted, highly readable novel about white Americans’ overweening sense of entitlement. --Joanne Wilkinson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It is a well written, thought-provoking book definitely worth the time to read.
I think my mouth fell open about one third of the way through the book, and hung that way until long after I finished it.
Carla Ford
It's filled with smart conversation, convincing characters, compassion and insights.
Jill I. Shtulman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By TrishNYC VINE VOICE on August 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Olson family gathers to celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays at the home of one of its members, Ginny. Ginny has recently made some drastic changes to her life, adopting a daughter from India, buying a house and her decision to host the family for this event is surprising but seems to be in line with this new phase of her life. Her brother Douglas and his wife Denise are drowning in severe debt as a result of Douglas's over speculation in the real estate market that has now gone bust. So while they smile and put on an appearance for their children and the rest of the family, there is trouble brewing. And Ginny and Douglas's parents, Eleanor and Gavin, are dealing with their own loneliness as they were never very communicative with each other following Gavin's return from the Vietnam war. While the meal starts off at Ginny's house, they are forced to move to Douglas's house because Ginny's stove malfunctions. This simple act sets the stage for a tragedy and calls into stark focus the underlying issues that have long simmered below the surface.

From the synopsis of the book, I knew there was to be a catastrophic event that would rock the whole family. But because this part of the story does not happen till much later, I was able to focus on the excellent characterization of the family that preceded this event. It is in the description of the individual members of this family, their quirks and demons, their sympathies and triumphs, that the author really shines and displays her talent as a writer. The reader is able to delve into the lives of a complex and ultimately sad family. To call this family dysfunctional really does not do them justice as they are so much more and it cheapens and trivializes their true intricacies.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Let me say it straight out: this book is astoundingly GOOD. Page-turning, jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud, cry-into-your-sleeves, gasp-with-recognition GOOD. It takes on nothing less than the theme of what is wrong with America today and it does it very well.

The action takes place over one Thanksgiving day with lots of flashbacks. There hasn't been a family like the Olsons since Zoe Heller's The Believers - with a dollop of the movie Pieces of April blended in. This family DEFINES dysfunction.

Gavin, the father, is a Vietnam vet whose career went wildly off track because of the anti-war sentiment when he returned. His wife Eleanor is a Wellesley graduate who traded in ambitions for an apron and a cookbook. Douglas, their older son, cashed in on the real estate boom - making him more successful than his old man ever was - and is now suffering the effects of the crash. His wife Denise - a one-time poor girl who has become enamored of the money - is less than enchanted with him. Ginny, the academic daughter, is emotionally closed-off and has recently adopted a 7-year-old Indian daughter, Priya,

Add to that two 17-year-olds from the housing projects - Kijo and Spider - who have a personal grudge against Douglas and break-in and enter his home while they're temporarily away - and you have the makings of a potentially tragic situation.

The author, Jennifer Venderbes, has a clear understanding of the human condition. Her dialogue is crisp, compelling, and pithy. There are little gems throughout this book. For instance: "Men didn't have heroes, they STUDIED heroes, as though greatness and masculinity could be transmitted through reading, as though knowing the lyrics to every Mick Jagger them one step closer to playing Madison Square Garden.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
American mythologizing of Thanksgiving is still perpetuated--the idea of goodwill between Indigenous Americans and European "pilgrims" and the lie that America was founded on cooperation and integrity rather than eminent domain and genocide. The myth of the first Thanksgiving shapes and parallels the thematic core of Vanderbes' new novel, a scathing, biting, and bitterly droll portrait of a suburban family that takes place on Thanksgiving 2007. It is no coincidence that Stamford Connecticut, the site of the massacre against hundreds of Pequots by Puritans (and the cause for the second Thanksgiving celebration), is the story's site of greedy real estate expansion and criminal expropriation under the deception of eminent domain and public safety.

On the one hand, this story of the Olsens can be read as a novel of a modern-day dysfunctional family in America. This includes a Yale graduate turned Vietnam vet (Gavin); Gavin's Wellesley grad wife, Eleanor, who spent her entire adult years as a housewife; their leftist academic daughter, Ginny, who majored in the history of the American family and who, as a single mother, adopted a mute, seven-year-old orphan from India; their son, Douglas, a real-estate entrepreneur on the verge of bankruptcy due to the subprime crash; and Douglas's wife, Denise, who escaped her blue-collar roots in Pittsburgh and desires a comfortable, upper-middle class comfort zone for them and their three children.

On the other hand, Vanderbes probes beneath the family itself and mines deep into the myths that underlie and underscore the American dream, as well as taking on issues of race, class, and the basis of war and the male warrior mentality.
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More About the Author

Jennifer Vanderbes is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a New York Public Library Cullman Fellowship. Her debut novel, Easter Island, was named a "best book of 2003" by the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor and was translated into sixteen languages. Her second novel, Strangers at the Feast, was described by Library Journal as "an absorbing and suspenseful story about the dynamics of family,generational misunderstandings, and the desperate ways one copes with both the arbitrariness of fate and the consequences of one's choices." Her third novel, The Secret of Raven Point, will be published in February 2014.

Her essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Atlantic. Her short fiction has appeared in Best New American Voices, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Granta.

She has taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Columbia University's M.F.A. Program, and at the Colgate Writers' Conference. She currently teaches in the University of Tampa's M.F.A. program.

For more information and to contact Jennifer, visit

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