Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris
Little, Brown and Company: 5/2/17
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316465953

The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris is a highly recommended collection of eleven previously published short stories. The stories in The Dinner Party, six of which were first published in The New Yorker, are about "the modern tribulations of marriage, ambition, and the fear of missing out..." The lives here are all changed in some way and at times the stories read like dark comedies. The writing is wonderful and there are several stories with surprising twists at the end. This is an admirable collection with only one story that I didn't enjoy as much as the others.

The Dinner Party: A man loathes having to sit through another dinner party with his wife's friend and her husband.  "He also wanted his wife and her friend to drift apart so that he never had to sit through another dinner party with the friend and her husband."

The Valetudinarian: It's Arty Groys birthday. The Florida retiree is at loose ends until he receives an unexpected gift "If I had known about any of this forty years ago, I wouldn’t be so gloomy today, but no one gives you a manual."

The Pilot: Leonard, who is writing a pilot for a TV show is invited to a party by Kate Lotvelt, a very successful writer, and he is unsure if she intended to invite him. "He and Kate, they weren’t…were they friends? Well, yeah, they were friends. They were acquaintances. They’d met twice, once at the producer Sydney Gleekman’s yearly blowout, and then, a few months later, at the actor’s dinner party."

A Night Out: A man is unable to hide his cheating from his wife. "She didn’t know how she knew. She just knew. Tom wanted not to have seen her, then he shifted with a smile and a loud, “Clara!” Clara was surprised to see him, or acted so. Tom introduced his wife. Clara complimented Sophie’s handbag."

The Breeze: A woman is out on the balcony, catching a pleasant spring breeze, which sets into motion endless possibilities for her but complacency from her husband.  " 'In the brig!' Sarah called out and, with her wineglass at a tilt, peeked down again on the neighborhood. They called their six feet of concrete balcony overlooking the street the brig.

Ghost Town Choir: A fatherless boy watches his mother chase off another boyfriend. " 'Mom, why are you mad at Lawton?' She opened the window above the sink, and all her figurines fell into the water. 'Because I got an expiration date on my stupidity!'"

More Abandon, or What Ever Happened to Joe Pope?: A man stays in his office building long after closing. "But there is work to do, work to do, and that, he tells himself, is why he stays. It is nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow, but he is incapable of breaking free."

Fragments: A man listens to the fragments of conversations he hears while out walking, thinking about his life. "That night, Katy came home later than usual. He was up but feigned sleep. With the lights off, she tiptoed into the bedroom, making no effort to wake him. He wanted her to. He wanted her to say something, anything..."

The Stepchild: An actor's wife has left him and he's in despair. "...passersby might have thought him utterly seduced - until he turned and they glimpsed that he was crying. Then they knew they were in one of those city moments, a public audience to a stranger’s despair."

Life in the Heart of the Dead: A middle aged man spends an afternoon on a guided tour of Prague. "'It’s Prague Castle,' she said. 'And by the way,' she added, just when the whole table, and really the whole restaurant, seemed to go completely silent. 'For some reason, you keep calling it Czechoslovakia. You understand, I hope, that it isn’t Czechoslovakia anymore. It hasn’t been Czechoslovakia for twenty years. It’s the Czech Republic now.'"

A Fair Price: A man hires an older man to help him move his stuff but he becomes increasingly belligerent as the day progresses. "Nothing sucked more than moving your stuff out of storage. Luckily Jack had a hand. Guy he’d never met before named Mike. Ryan, his yard guy, had hooked them up. Mike worked for Ryan or knew Ryan somehow. Jack didn’t ask. He was just glad to have the help."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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