Thursday, November 4, 2010

139 - Strangers at the Feast; Jennifer Vanderbes


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:
" She's mute? A single mother raising a MUTE seven year old from India?"
(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.)

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

34 comments:

  1. This sounds like one I'd enjoy... very timely, too!

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  2. I'm so glad to hear you loved this one. I'm been saving it to read the week of Thanksgiving to coincide with its setting, and I haven't read a bad review yet.

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  3. This has been on my radar for a while and I'm moving it up the TBR list after reading your review!

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  4. Oh, this sounds amusing. On the one hand, I feel like the Dysfunctional Family has become kind of a cliche but I think I may like this one.

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  5. I'm looking forward to reading this one. I know that you are not talking about movies, but the dysfunctionality reminds me of the movie Home for the Holidays. Why is it that families are sometimes at their worst at holiday time?

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  6. Wow, that is dysfunction with a capital "D"! It sounds like this would be the perfect book for me when I get down about my own family's dysfunction, and from the way you describe it, I think It would be a really good read for me. I am going right now to add this one to my list, and I thank you for the great review you provided and for the quotes as well! I am dying to find out the shocking incident in this book now!

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  7. Ooh, I think I'll read this one next!!

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  8. this sounds incredible...perfect for the upcoming season!!

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  9. This sounds incredibly unique -- I love the passages you selected, they give the perfect example of the dysfunction in the family -- I'm curious to know what the tragedy is that happens!

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  10. Sounds great...and now I really want to know what happens ;-)

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  11. Sounds miserable in the best way -- I just requested this from my library. I'm already anxiously anticipating what awful thing happens -- the quoted excerpts you offered were so tantalizing!

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  12. I guess that means your Thanksgiving Dinner with be a dysfunction function!

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  13. Woo woo woo! I have this one - just haven't gotten to it yet. So happy to see 5/5!

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  14. This is the second rave review I've read for this book, so I'm thinking I'll have to give it a closer look soon.

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  15. Great review! I like the quotes you shared. Nice job.

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  16. How timely for Thanksgiving - which can be either be excruciating or joyful, depending on one's family. I've had my share of Thanksgivings that exploded due to some family drama.

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  17. This book sounds fabulous. I really want to read this. I haven't ever heard of it, but it sounds full to the brim of suspense.

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  18. Wow, the official book blurb didn't grab me, but your review did.

    I agree with Carrie, this would be a great read over Thanksgiving week (esp. if visiting in-laws :) )

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  19. I'm intrigued. Sounds like a book I should read around Thanksgiving and perhaps be thankful for the fact that my family will probably seem pretty good compared to this one. :)

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  20. Everyone who has read this has LOVED it. I've got to get a copy soon. Sounds like a great Thanksgiving read.

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  21. Great review! It sounds like it gets pretty involved. I may switch my reading schedule up a bit and read this during Thanksgiving to go along with its mood. I picked it up a few weeks ago but put it down again.

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  22. I have a copy of this one and your review sealed the deal that I need to get to this book soon!!!

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  23. This does sound good, and I love the title. It sounds like one of those novels that will make me feel *very* normal. :-P

    http://laughingstars.net

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  24. Oh this is going on my wishlist. I have yet to read a book set around Thanksgiving, and since my family is dysfunctional this will be my first.

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  25. Good example of the importance of cover art. I certainly would have passed this over in a book store and, I'm now embarrassed to admit, I nearly passed over your review because the book didn't look interesting. I'm so glad I stopped to read the whole thing. Sounds like a wonderful story and perfect for this time of year. It's already on order. Thanks for a great review.

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  26. I really liked this one too, I thought the characters were so fabulous and the suspense was built slowly and perfectly throughout. Awesome cover too. :)

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  27. I sure like the sound of this one! I'm not reading anything new this year because I'm focusing on my current reading challenge but I sure would like to put this in my wish list. Thanks for the review!

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  28. I'm going to have to check this one out. I can't resist a 5 star review, and I love books told from different perspectives.

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  29. I waited to read your review until I was finished with mine! I love the passages you quoted, they're perfect examples of the family's dysfunction!
    I found the characters fascinating & interesting, too.
    My problem with the book is primarily with the ending. But if there's a sequel, I'll be first in line!

    ~ Amy

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  30. I think most families have some degree of dysfuctional. Sounds like the family in this book simmered past the boliling point.

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  31. Oh what to do, what to do? You loved it, Amy not so much. Guess I'll just have to give it a go and have realistic expectations.

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  32. I received an early ARC of this one and read it right away. I sort of wish I had waited until it was closer to Thanksgiving but no matter...I loved it just the same.

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  33. I'm going to read this soon, so many great reviews.

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