Interestingly, at no point during book club--over dinner, in a restaurant--was my mind drawn to any parallels between our meal and that of the characters in The Dinner, our selection this month. It's an obvious parallel, even without the obsequious maitre d' or the tiny but overpriced portions. (I am seriously, deeply in love that pecan chicken salad.)
But of course, we're not a bunch of hateful sociopaths, so OF COURSE it didn't feel anything like that horrible dinner. We're good human beings, many of whom are trained in helping young people with serious psychological problems. Our conversation was amusing and interesting--and the book made for great conversation; it's really an object lesson in picking a book club book. Moral ambiguity, unfolding layers of information and character, excellent writing, a quick read, and a few "what just happened there?" moments.
The plot is described in many places: two couples meet for dinner to discuss an Issue with their teenaged sons. You know this from the cover. You learn early on that the two men are brothers, one a big name politician and the other more of an average joe who's kind of resentful of the fancy restaurant his brother chose. His brother's a snob and a fake, you see. And the first third of the book is mostly about that--about the absolutely disgusting pretension of really fancy restaurants that are just stealing your money, and about how much we hate phonies and hypocrites.
Honestly, at the halfway point I called the book slow; if you're going to rely on hiding the real point of the book from me for that long, you have to give me an artificial point of the book to hang my hat on, and "I wish the waiter would stop telling me what country the ingredients come from" is not enough. When the revelations start to come--the narrator found a troubling video on his son's phone; there's a story in the news recently; there's this incident from a few years ago--none of them are really surprising. Guess the plot based on the cover blurb; these scenarios probably crossed your mind. But about halfway through, as the revelations of fact begin, so do the revelations of character.
And THAT is where the book really kind of blows up in your face. Because you spend time with each of these characters, feeling embarrassed for or scornful of or frightened for or frightened of each of them, and then you get an inch, and then an inch more, and you wonder how reliable your narrator is, and then you wonder if maybe he's totally reliable and your judgement is off, and then wait a minute, really!?
I've heard that this is the new Gone Girl. (Well, someone at book club had heard it; I heard it for the first time last night.) It's not Gone Girl, and I wouldn't ever draw that parallel of the experience of reading the book. But when you get to the end and you look back on it, you might think: yeah, you know, the place you end up in this book is not too distant from the place you end up after Gone Girl. You just took a completely, totally unrelated route to get there.
And then, if you're me, you go read a nice book about nuns to try to leave that place behind you.
Awesome, awesome book club, by the way. On which subject, I really want to watch Pride and Prejudice again. This will happen; there will be a Viewing. Count on it.