ARC Review – The Dinner List, by Rebecca Serle

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The Dinner List
by Rebecca Serle

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism

Length: 288 Pages

Release date: September 11, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

“We’ve been waiting for an hour.” That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.”

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends with in her utterly captivating novel, THE DINNER LIST, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, THE DINNER LIST is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

ratingthree

The Dinner List was a quick read with an interesting premise. What began as a simple mental exercise with a college roommate (choose any five people, living or dead, to join you for one meal) suddenly becomes a reality on Sabrina’s 30th birthday. The result is an unexpected encounter with four people from Sabrina’s personal life… and Audrey Hepburn.

On its face, this seems like it would make for a light, fun read. Serle’s novel, however, drags her protagonist into a drawn-out exchange with people who represent a monumental amount of emotional baggage for her. Yes, even Audrey, in a way. While there are fun and light moments in the novel, it primarily feels like an analysis of where Sabrina’s life has gone wrong and if/how she can move on from those things.

While I enjoyed this novel overall, it felt like there was something lacking. I think part of the issue is that fundamental weirdness of Audrey Hepburn’s presence as the only person on the list Sabrina did not know personally. The presence of only one stranger, and such an iconic one at that, brought something of a lopsided impression to the plot that I don’t feel would have been there if there had been an additional stranger at the dinner. As it was, it felt a bit like a celebrity barging into an intimate family discussion.

The Dinner List has one bombshell of a plot twist (perhaps you’ll see it coming; I certainly didn’t) that changes the whole tone of the story when it hits. This book was an emotional roller coaster that ends with a glimmer of optimism and light at just the moment it began to feel too dark. Overall, a unique book that was worth the read.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and not influenced by the publisher. 

Purchase links

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Thank you for reading! Who would be on your dinner list? Discuss in the comments!

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Review – Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism

Length: 285

Release date: September 5, 2017

Publisher: Scribner

Synopsis: 

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.

rating

four

This is an absolutely beautiful book. Ward’s lyrical prose, rich with metaphor and evocative imagery, meshes well with the magical realism woven into the story. Overall, this creates a dreamy atmosphere which provides a nice counter balance for the heavy, dark story lines; ghosts are full-fledged characters in this story, bringing along their baggage and trauma brought on by violent deaths.

If I have any criticism at all of this novel, it’s that Ward’s distinctive voice sometimes gets in the way of her characters. There is too much similarity in tone between different point of view characters, blending them together. The prose was so lovely that it’s hard to mind, but it does have the effect of distracting from the story at times. For example, Jojo is 13 years old, and sometimes seems to have a college-level vocabulary. The writing is stylistically lovely, but not always believable as Jojo’s internal monologue.

Leonie is a deeply flawed woman and unable to bond with her children. Kayla, the youngest child, looks to Jojo for a kind of surrogate parent, and she resents both of them for this evidence of her failure as a mother. I personally disliked Leonie deeply, but still found her point of view chapters endlessly engaging, a testament to Ward’s skill as a writer. If a book has me hanging on every word of a character that I can’t stand, that’s worth noting.

I feel the need to warn readers that this is an emotionally difficult book to read. Themes include, racial violence, sexual violence, drug addiction, and death. These themes are handled masterfully, however, and Sing, Unburied, Sing, is the kind of novel that lives in the reader’s soul for years to come.

“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.” 

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read Sing, Unburied, Sing or any of Jesmyn Ward’s other work? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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