Strangers at the Feast tells the story of the dysfunctional Olson family as they gather for Thanksgiving dinner, 2007. Little does the family have reason to suspect that their day will end in tragedy. The three generations of family members consists of Gavin, quiet, aloof, Vietnam Vet; his wife Eleanor ; their two children Douglas, (married to Denise with three children). Gavin and Eleanor's single daughter Ginger, an intellectual working in academia, is hosting the dinner in her newly acquired, but run down home in Westchester County, New York. She is also introducing her newly adopted, seven year old daughter, Priya, from India, to her family. Her daughter does not speak.
To get a feel for how dysfunctional the family is, I selected a few passages:
When Eleanor learns that her newly adopted granddaughter does not speak, her response is:
(Oh, Eleanor loved her daughter, but what a dung heap of liberation her generation had inherited. Ginny cared so much about her right to do things, she ignored the difficulties.)" She's mute? A single mother raising a MUTE seven year old from India?"
Ginny's brother Douglas, a real estate developer, struggling with career and family, is obnoxious to say the least His thoughts about his sister:
(A mute orphaned child, a house without a television, a living room full of plywood furniture. Ginny's obsession with deprivation was like a bizarre medical condition.)When a problem in Ginny's kitchen causes the family to move the Thanksgiving dinner to another location, Douglas' only thoughts were:
(He'd counted on stuffing, vegetables, dessert. Was this her plan? Deprive them of football and food and teach them some kind of history lesson?)
The plan now is to move Thanksgiving to Douglas and Denise's home in an upscale neighborhood of Greenwich, Connecticut. No one is prepared for what happens there.
MY THOUGHTS - I loved this novel. The story is constructed in such a way that the suspense begins to build early on. You know, and the jacket indicates, that something bad is going to happen --but you do not know what. The story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of each of the family members, as well as by (2) outsiders not related to the family. The author, in my opinion is very talented, having created a story that draws you in from the beginning and never eases up. Each of the characters is dysfunctional, and by the end of the novel, you will feel like you know each of them, as if they had been part of your own family (at least I felt that way). It's one of those stories that sends a message, in this case: for every action, there is a reaction.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - I'll be talking about this one at this year's Thanksgiving dinner.
RATING - 5/5 stars