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

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