Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Dinner

Just when you thought El Jefe had abandoned her post.  Take yourselves back in time, way back, to early December.  Fake snow on the front porch, the aroma of rich winter cooking in the air, Christmas trees alight, and avid readers drunk on champagne.  It could be none other than the twelfth annual holiday Book Club! Even better because Blondie was all up in the hizzy!  Once in BC, always… 

Thanks to The Highlander and Mr. Matty once again for hosting.  Seems like just yesterday there were a million calories worth of artichoke dip and cured meats set forth before us, to be followed by beef bourguignon (new recipe—a winner!) ladled over truffled mashed potatoes (it’s always early January before El Jefe recovers from potato mashing carpal tunnel syndrome), roasted brussel sprouts, non-under-saladed salad (a bounty in fact!), crusty baguettes and Heath Bar cookies galore.  Deee lishy! All El Jefe wants for Christmas is to never stray from that menu.  And the other thing El Jefe wants is for Carmen not to take ALL the leftovers home. Ever. Again.

Our December book, The Dinner, by Herman Koch, is an international best-seller but did not fly off the shelves among our group.  It came in at a lackluster 6.7. To refresh our collective memories, this was the story of two families living in Amsterdam:  Paul, an ex-schoolteacher (dishonorably discharged as we later discover), his wife Claire, and their son; and Paul’s brother Serge, Dutch presidential hopeful, his wife Babette, and their two sons, one adopted from Africa.  The children of these two families commit a heinous crime when they set a homeless person on fire inside an ATM booth, and the story deals with the parents’ discovery of this incident and the ensuing consequences—all recounted during the course of a dinner at one of Amsterdam’s hottest restaurants. Despite the violence and psychological twists in this book, several people commented that it was a slow read:  long stretches between inflection points, disjointed chapters flipping back and forth in time, and a pace that just generally dragged.  As a counterpoint, it was noted that the pace of the book was deliberately measured in order to match the theme and setting, that is, it took place over multiple courses of an elegant meal rather than being served up in one shot like fast food.  The Dinner also was criticized for not having a single likeable character and for the fact that Paul, the protagonist, did not wrestle with the moral issues in the story at all. On the other hand, the author clearly intended the readers to grapple with the significant moral questions presented, and we went around the room and talked about what we each would have done if our own child had committed the crime but had not been apprehended.  Would we keep silent and hope the authorities never figured it out?  Or would we turn our kids’ asses in? In addition, the book was highly successful in its stunning 180 degree flip of the reader’s expectations as to which family was “normal” and “happy.”  The book is narrated by Paul, and at the outset he depicts himself and Claire as the upstanding couple and casts doubt over Serge and Babette.  Most of us really enjoyed the way Paul’s utter depravity was developed little by little—his uncontrolled episodes of remorseless violence brought on by some unidentified (and, according to The Doctor, fictional) genetic flaw—and then of all things Claire turned out to be a total psychopath, instructing her own son to kill his cousin and slashing Serge’s face to pieces with the stem of a broken wine glass so the truth wouldn’t come out. Dang! Finally, because of the fact that Paul turns out to be so cray-cray, he is an unreliable narrator and the reader is left questioning whether there are parts of the story that never even happened at all.  In sum, better than last year’s book on magic tricks but a far cry from Zeitoun

Who needs dinner in Amsterdam?  Just snacks when you get the munchies.

 Deceptively peaceful.

Cate Blanchett will make her directorial debut adapting The Dinner-- easy, Claire.

The January recap is right on the heels, stay tuned. xoej

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Hundred Summers

A woefully belated recap of our end-o'-the-season BC hosted by The Doctor at the Autumn Chateau.  Methinks El Jefe was a little saucy that night, as the entire meal, start to finish, is hazy to say the least.  Ah yes, due to the fact that some of us started off the evening with Salty Dogs, note the plural (whose idea could that possibly have been??). Pretty sure that the hors d'oeuvres involved burrata and were lishy.  Less sure that dinner was a hearty Tuscan soup involving sausage. And drawing a complete blank on dessert, clearly just plain hammered by that point.  Thank goodness that El Jefe knows the holiday menu by heart after ten years, so have no fear for next month.

What is crystal clear in El Jefe's memory (ahem, notes) is the abysmal review of Beatriz Williams' A Hundred Summers.  Three 2's, two apiece of 4 and 5, and one 6, for an overall average score of 4.5.  Yowsa, but not the lowest rating in BC history! True to da Game scored a 3.6 so this book is well in the clear. Nonetheless, when an author writes stuff like "Her lips formed a perfect 'O' around his…."  you know we are not talking about great literature. Those at the low end described the book as "atrocious," "wretched," and "it made me angry." Another complaint was that the Kiki reveal was obvious (recall, Kiki was the love child of Lily's mom and Nick Greenwald's father).  And Red said that she would rather read F. Scott Fitzgerald than someone copying the voice of that era and doing a shitty job (maybe we should read him, then!). Those at the high end, as it were, found the book to be more silly than repulsive-- for example, all the characters riding on the doors of houses through the hurricane to safety-- and at least credited it with having some fun drama and intrigue (but really poor sex scenes, unfortsch). We all agreed that there was simply not much to talk about here, so let's leave it at that and look forward to Thursday's holiday BC where there will be plenty of discussion! Can't wait to drink many glasses of champagne with all of you, not to mention the added treat that Blondie will be in town for the festivities!

Two days to read The Dinner by Herman Koch if you haven't already.  xoej

P.S. Just remembered that the dessert was a caramel pie!