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Entertaining Disasters: A Novel (With Recipes) Paperback – January 6, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The unnamed heroine of Spillers debut is an L.A. epicurean whos made a career writing about her perfect dinner parties. The only problem? She hasnt thrown one in years—in fact, she dislikes socializing at all. But when a well-placed magazine editor asks for an invite, our heroine is forced to reproduce her fantasy life for a do-or-die dinner. What looks at first like a three-act rom-com spends hundreds of pages spinning its wheels, the paralyzed narrator pinging between food trivia and recollections of a neglectful, withholding mother. As promised, the novel contains recipes, but most are unexecutable and only some relevant. Aside from epicurean concerns, the heroines focus sticks mainly to the flaws in her surroundings; theres no learning or growing, just a litany of worries over the coming party, lots of blame-throwing and unhappiness. Despite Spillers clever way with words, her reach falls short of social satire, resulting in a static character study of a whining foodie. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

The nameless food writer who narrates this funny, satirical novel exhibits all the worst tendencies of her profession. Vain, self-absorbed, and oblivious to agendas other than her own, she begins to organize her first dinner party in a decade. Living in Los Angeles, she immediately runs into a problem with invitees who seem to manufacture excuses, who will come only if certain foods are served or not served, or who want to use the dinner party to advance their own careers—the City of Angels as the City of Angles. The writer has a substantial set of issues with her family and with her mother in particular. Each chapter includes a recipe, some utterly hilarious and undoable. Simple coleslaw carries ill-written, self-defeating instructions. A lengthy list of ingredients for an Opera cake concludes with the advice to forget all this and just go buy one at a good bakery. --Mark Knoblauch
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582434514
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582434513
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,836,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By SD on February 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
The title is very misleading. It's more a book about the protagonist's (and I suspect the author's) dysfunctional family than preparing for the big dinner party. Why do so many books these days have to be about dysfunctional families? I'm sick of it already. The protagonist also thinks it's rocket science to throw a dinner party. Get over it. Very formulaic. If author had stuck to the one idea, the book would probably have been too short to publish.
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With all the attention in the last decade to food and food culture, foodies, the Food Network and the elevation of chefs to the status of religious leaders, here comes a narrator to remind us that there is life after dinner. The wonderfully named FW is an original creation, a witty woman traveling in the fast lane of magazine food writing whose own dark back story catches up with her as she heads toward a climactic rendezvous with truth -- or the lack of it -- in what she does for a living. Ms. Spiller's winning prose style, familiar to newspaper and magazine readers on the West Coast, has never been better as she stretches out in this alternately amusing and harrowing autobiographical novel. Quite a feat -- or, more appropriately, feast.
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Nancy Spiller has the rare ability to comment honestly on the truth that lies beneath our contemporary social niceties with such knife sharp wit that the reader actually laughs out loud. This is a literary novel, with words of weight and truth born of courageous self-examination, that will invite every foodie who ever tried to throw a dinner party to reflect on what was not said at the table.

If you care about perceptive writing and great food, get this book. The recipes are a bonus (I am going to try the lamb and prunes), but even better are the tips and opinions about food sprinkled throughout. Where else will you find out which is the best of all the hundreds of balsamic vinegars in the world? The author writes from experience, having written food articles for the LA Times. But Julia Child was never this frank about her life and family. The combination of that open examination with the sensory delight of food adds up to a book that is not just read, but experienced. And not soon forgotten.
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I loved Nancy Spiller's novel -- a richly-layered tale of food and family, seasoned with recipes. FW, an unnamed LA food writer, is famous for her descriptions of intimate and coveted dinner parties, but these fetes are imaginary: She makes them up. When a visiting food critic invites himself to one of these parties, cracks appear in FW's tenuous façade. As she prepares for what promises to be a disaster, she is forced to dip into a past that threatens to consume her. FW's mother, once a great cook, descends into madness; the family collapses; and the child FW attempts to care for herself ' through cooking. Luscious, keen, and infused with emotional intelligence, Entertaining Disasters is a marvelous exploration of artifice and truth. It speaks to the hungers, betrayals and loneliness within families and the ways we attempt to feed the empty spaces inside.
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We "women of a certain age" will recognize the characters and caricatures of Nancy Spiller's middle class life in the fifties and sixties. Delicious descriptions of both food and family remind readers of a time before packaged Chex Party Mix replaced the home-cooked version just as aluminum and formica replaced our maple dinette set. Both were seen by our Depression-era parents as progress and modern conveniences. Spiller's personal memoir captures the sights and smells of Boomer childhoods filled with Crisco and orange juice from Frozen concentrate. Just as her mother's recipe box sparked Spiller's quest to learn more about her heritage, what she discovered will cause the reader to reminisce of his or her own fond memories of family gathering and traditions.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was well written with much attention to detail. It was almost like poetry in places. Food was a main ingredient, but family issues played an important role. I was transported to another time and place whenever I picked up this book.
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Foodies are bound to be curious about the recipes alluded to in the subtitle of this piquant autobiographical first novel, but the ingredient lists and step-by-step kitchen instructions capping each chapter are mere snacks compared with the real meat of this tale: how and why the narrator, a freelance food writer, has come to dread the dinner parties for which she is the toast of the town. As she plans the menu for what could be the most important soiree of her career, the hostess-with-the-mostest takes us on a journey through her life, navigating modern Los Angeles with extended detours to her Castro Valley childhood growing up in a family that was anything but normal. The flashbacks are vividly and unsparingly rendered through the eyes of a young girl struggling to make sense of a home and dinner table loosely shared with an unhinged mother, a distant father, two phantom brothers and a misfit sister. Ultimately, "Entertaining Disasters" is about family and how, like food, it can bring us both pleasure and pain, and either sustain us or not.
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