Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Review: THE DINNER PARTY by Brenda Janowitz

Sylvia Gold of Greenwich, Connecticut is planning a dinner party. But this isn't just any dinner
party—it is a Passover Seder with very special guests: Edmond and Ursella Rothschild of New York City. 

The illustrious Mr. and Mrs. Rothschild’s son—Henry—is dating Sylvia’s youngest daughter—Becca—and Sylvia wants everything to be flawless: her house, her husband, and especially her three children.

Sylvia’s incessant drive for perfection has been instilled in her kids—Becca, a medical student; Sarah, an editor at a fashion magazine; and Gideon, a physician working in Sri Lanka for Doctors Without Borders. But although the Gold children are admirable and accomplished, they still doubt themselves. They still have the nagging feeling that they can never meet Sylvia’s standards. 

Sarah is in a longstanding relationship with Joe Russo—her junior-high sweetheart—but despite the strength of that union, Sarah can’t shake the guilt of being with a man who isn’t good enough for Sylvia. Becca has spent her entire life achieving goals because running herself ragged is easier than dealing with her mother’s disappointment. And even Gideon—Sylvia’s favorite child—seems so full of pent-up resentment that he lashes out at his mother in passive-aggressive ways. 

But Sylvia is oblivious to the stress she puts on her children—or her husband, Alan. She is determined to make the Passover Seder a success, even if that means hiring an upscale chef who serves food that nobody in the family likes. (Frog legs, anyone?) Sylvia is determined to impress the Rothschilds, because “they are the stuff of legends.”  

But are they really? And is Henry as much of a catch as Sylvia thinks? 

Secrets, lies, and surprises threaten Sylvia’s dinner party and spark changes that nobody in either family expected—including Sylvia, who doesn’t care for unpleasantness. “You know how much I dislike death,” she tells Sarah.

But for all her faults, Sylvia isn’t a villain. She is merely a mother who wants the best for her children. She had an imperfect mother, too. She has her own insecurities. She also worries about the future. She has hopes and dreams. Like all of the characters in The Dinner Party, Sylvia Gold is a complex and sympathetic individual with attributes and flaws. Through alternating points of view, each character’s background, emotions, and motivations are developed and explored. 

Countless moments in The Dinner Party are touching and relatable, including a scene during which Sarah lingers in her childhood bedroom, reminiscing about her teenage years with Joe. "Their present looked a lot like what they had mapped out back then. Sarah at a magazine, his father’s shop for Joe, but still, Sarah felt incredibly nostalgic for those times when anything was possible.” 

The contemporary NYC/Connecticut setting is vivid, and the references to the 1970s are a wonderful dash of popular-culture past. "'A Brit!" Valentina said, flipping her hand back as if she were Vinnie Barbarino. Modern-day observations also ring hilariously true: "In Alan's experience, Googling anything was a bad idea."

The Dinner Party is emotional, real, and filled with clever wit. Brenda Janowitz has succeeded in creating an honest, heartfelt novel about the challenging relationships within a family and the love that holds them together. 

Final Word: I read The Dinner Party in one day...I just could not stop turning the pages! If you enjoy entertaining, well-written, and compelling stories that focus on relationships, then The Dinner Party is for you. Published earlier this month, the novel has already received rave reviews and was featured in Us Weekly's "Standout Spring Novels."
Title:The Dinner Party

 Author: Brenda Janowitz
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 2016
 Author’s website: www.brendajanowitz.com