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The Dinner Party: Stories Hardcover – May 2, 2017
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Praise for Joshua Ferris's THE DINNER PARTY:
A New York Times Notable Book
"A magnificent black carnival of discord and delusion....For some accomplished novelists--and Ferris is one of the best of our day--short stories are mere doodles, warm ups or warm downs, slight variations on themes better addressed at length. Not so for Ferris. Dynamic with speed, yet rich with novelistic density, his stories make The Dinner Party a full-fledged feast."―Will Blythe, New York Times Book Review
"Plenty of novels, memoirs and cultural studies have explored the end of men or the failings of masculinity. But Ferris, a darkly comic writer who feels like the novelist equivalent of the filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, has managed to write a series of stories on the subject that feels fresh. His male characters mess up, in small and spectacular fashion, but their misdeeds often prompt our sympathy, thanks to Ferris's insightful narration."―Ian Shapira, The Washington Post
"Ferris finesses the line between tragedy and comedy, and his sly wit often surfaces in sarcastic, offbeat ways...The Dinner Party provides a fine showcase for his work."―Heller McAlpin, NPR.org
"Ferris is an incisive observer, and his descriptions of even the most quotidian situations are elegant and fresh."
―Eliot Schrefer, USA Today
"Everything comes mordantly alive in the priceless imagination of Ferris....His perverse short narratives do not disappoint."―Janet Maslin, New York Times, Books to Breeze Through This Summer
"Observational and piercing, Ferris's short stories expose how fraught and emotionally explosive the search for connection with other human beings can be."―Angela Ledgerwood, Esquire, 20 Best Books of 2017 (so far)
"The Dinner Party is a collection of stories about quiet, domestic chaos... I love it. The titular story finds a couple awaiting the arrival of dinner guests who never materialize.... equal parts Cheever and Carver....a strong set of stories about infidelity, jealousy, and neurotic insecurity."―Kevin Nguyen, GQ, Best Books You'll Read In May
"This collection hits the sweet spot between character realism and existentially wry musings on modern life... In the past, Mr. Ferris has drawn favorable comparisons with Jonathan Franzen, but this collection shows Mr. Ferris as the funnier of the two. None of Mr. Franzen's novels has been as light or enjoyable to read."
―Nathan Pensky, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
About the Author
Joshua Ferris is the bestselling author of three novels, Then We Came to the End, The Unnamed and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. He has been a finalist for the National Book Award, winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and was named one of The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers in 2010. He lives in New York.
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But what really bothered me about these stories was that they teased - with great aplomb - an underlying horror. Not a supernatural one, but definitely flirtation with elements of the horrific. The monstrous.
And that bothered me. A lot. And quite unfairly. What does Joshua Ferris owe me? Not horror, and not the supernatural. We have other writers for that.
So why am I annoyed? Why so frustrated? The best I can say is that it's like watching someone talk about how badly they want to walk through a door, and the door is open and they are standing in front of it, describing what's on the other side, describing the door frame itself... but not walking through.
I'm just like, it's okay, man. Just walk through the door. Do it. You know you want to - you can smell it, you won't shut up about it, you're practically there already.
So just go.
Anyway, pretty good book. But would have been better with a little courageous horror thrown in.
The title story, The Dinner Party, gives us a man and wife preparing to host a dinner party with the wife’s friends whom the husband does not like. He insists on predicting the entire night’s conversation and mocking her friends, friends who never arrive. The Valetudinarian is an amusing story of how a self-obsessed bore finds a new lease on life by nearly dying. It’s kind of sweet and very funny. In The Pilot, we hear all the neurotic obsessing of the completely insecure. Leonard is a screenwriter who has been invited to one of the hottest Hollywood parties ever and is pretty sure that is has to be a mistake because he is not that successful. His relentless worrying and fretting over whether that was a real invite or a mistake, what to wear, what to say, is heartbreaking and hilarious.
In The Breeze, you have one of those what do you wanna do, no what do you wanna do quandaries that unfold in a multiverse of possibilities. It is my favorite story in the book–perhaps because so many of the stories are about male anxiety and alienation. More Abandon
(Or Whatever Happened to Joe Pope? is another story with real humor and heart, a story that shows you the dangers of working late at the office. Work late, ruin your life. A Fair Price is different from the others in its consequences, but again, we have man talking himself into destruction, a common theme throughout the book. Without self-talk, this book would be tiny and have no plot.
I liked The Dinner Party very much even if many of the people are detestable. Perhaps we all are detestable in our heads in different ways. The insecurity, anxiety, delusion, excuse-making, rationalization, and obsession all seems very plausible and real, though perhaps exaggerated.
These are not stories about likable people, but perhaps that is the point. We can understand and even empathize despite their flaws. Ferris is compassionate and is challenging us to find our own compassion for these lost and lonely men and women who either do not know what they want, do not want what they have, or are in the process of losing what they want and what they have even when it is their fault.
I received a copy of The Dinner Party from the publisher through NetGalley.
The Dinner Party: A man loathes having to sit through another dinner party with his wife's friend and her husband. "He also wanted his wife and her friend to drift apart so that he never had to sit through another dinner party with the friend and her husband."
The Valetudinarian: It's Arty Groys birthday. The Florida retiree is at loose ends until he receives an unexpected gift "If I had known about any of this forty years ago, I wouldn’t be so gloomy today, but no one gives you a manual."
The Pilot: Leonard, who is writing a pilot for a TV show is invited to a party by Kate Lotvelt, a very successful writer, and he is unsure if she intended to invite him. "He and Kate, they weren’t…were they friends? Well, yeah, they were friends. They were acquaintances. They’d met twice, once at the producer Sydney Gleekman’s yearly blowout, and then, a few months later, at the actor’s dinner party."
A Night Out: A man is unable to hide his cheating from his wife. "She didn’t know how she knew. She just knew. Tom wanted not to have seen her, then he shifted with a smile and a loud, “Clara!” Clara was surprised to see him, or acted so. Tom introduced his wife. Clara complimented Sophie’s handbag."
The Breeze: A woman is out on the balcony, catching a pleasant spring breeze, which sets into motion endless possibilities for her but complacency from her husband. " 'In the brig!' Sarah called out and, with her wineglass at a tilt, peeked down again on the neighborhood. They called their six feet of concrete balcony overlooking the street the brig.
Ghost Town Choir: A fatherless boy watches his mother chase off another boyfriend. " 'Mom, why are you mad at Lawton?' She opened the window above the sink, and all her figurines fell into the water. 'Because I got an expiration date on my stupidity!'"
More Abandon, or What Ever Happened to Joe Pope?: A man stays in his office building long after closing. "But there is work to do, work to do, and that, he tells himself, is why he stays. It is nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow, but he is incapable of breaking free."
Fragments: A man listens to the fragments of conversations he hears while out walking, thinking about his life. "That night, Katy came home later than usual. He was up but feigned sleep. With the lights off, she tiptoed into the bedroom, making no effort to wake him. He wanted her to. He wanted her to say something, anything..."
The Stepchild: An actor's wife has left him and he's in despair. "...passersby might have thought him utterly seduced - until he turned and they glimpsed that he was crying. Then they knew they were in one of those city moments, a public audience to a stranger’s despair."
Life in the Heart of the Dead: A middle aged man spends an afternoon on a guided tour of Prague. "'It’s Prague Castle,' she said. 'And by the way,' she added, just when the whole table, and really the whole restaurant, seemed to go completely silent. 'For some reason, you keep calling it Czechoslovakia. You understand, I hope, that it isn’t Czechoslovakia anymore. It hasn’t been Czechoslovakia for twenty years. It’s the Czech Republic now.'"
A Fair Price: A man hires an older man to help him move his stuff but he becomes increasingly belligerent as the day progresses. "Nothing sucked more than moving your stuff out of storage. Luckily Jack had a hand. Guy he’d never met before named Mike. Ryan, his yard guy, had hooked them up. Mike worked for Ryan or knew Ryan somehow. Jack didn’t ask. He was just glad to have the help."
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.