I was pleasantly surprised to find The Dinner List in my mailbox a week back. The premise was interesting, I think we’ve all at least considered the question, if you could name five people, living or dead, who you could invite to dinner, who would they be? So the idea of having this dream dinner come true, what would that ACTUALLY look like, would everyone get along? Would some people end up not being what you thought they’d be like? Etc. Well our MC Sabrina had just this happen at 30th birthday dinner, her five living and deceased people there for her.
The story takes place over the span of this one time only dinner, and also jumps back to past events between Sabrina and all of the guests. While the story starts off a little awkward between the guests and what they are all really doing there, it starts all coming to light as it progresses. With a twist or two along the way!
This was a little of a slow burn. Not action packed by any means, but ultimately very emotional with some truly fantastic ideas about what it is to grow up, relationships, love, loss, and forgiveness.
A few things that resonated deeply with me:
1) The brilliant portrayal of what it is like to become an adult. To really start to question all the things around you, the relationships, the goals you want to achieve, what you want to do or be, want you really want and need vs what others may want or need or expect you to. The last one especially, we are almost hardwired on what to expect from life, go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, start a family, etc. I feel like we don’t start questioning these things, if any or all of them are truly what we want or if we are just operating on someone else’s playbook until we are in our twenties. It was refreshing and so real to see this exactly so beautifully on display in this book.
2) How relationships change over time. This can be such a difficult lesson to learn, but as we grow and our lives carry us in new exciting directions, our relationships change. That doesn’t always mean they change for the worse, but one they definitely become something other than the center of your life, which is mostly how they feel when you are young. More often than not, it isn’t even anything definable that changes it, no big dramatic moment, not one thing, it changes “Not with a bang but a whimper”. Just a progressive shift of priorities, opinions, and lifestyles.
I thought this was expertly portrayed by Sabrina and Jessica in The Dinner List. Sometimes it can be so difficult to see that while your relationships look different, it doesn’t necessarily mean make them less than they were. Jessica had a husband and a baby, living in the burbs, while Sabrina was in the city with a job and a long term boyfriend. Neither one being better than the other, but time, distance, priorities, these all account for just how we can be there for each other sometimes.
This was also highlighted well with Sabrina’s relationship with Tobias as well. With them getting together when they were younger and growing up as a couple. I felt like in some instances as they grew, they started veering in different directions and it can be really hard to accept that some of those directions may just end up being deal breakers. They seemed more content to try and live in a bubble of denial that things were changing, maybe because they were afraid of what that change would mean for them as a couple. Unfortunately denial can only last so long and their bubble was reaching the bursting point for quite some time.
3) The absentee parent. Being someone who never met my father, I could relate to Sabrina and her inclusion of her father on her dinner list. If for nothing more than the burning questions, because there are always questions you have for someone meant to be there for you that wasn’t. I was riveted by all their interactions with each other tbh. So many small details even, that rang so true, like Sabrina’s apprehension to give him a chance to explain things like it would somehow be a betrayal to her mother.
There was something so brilliant and sad about them finally having only a few hours to say what they had to say to each other. And something so relatable to anyone, when you finally see your parents for what they are, human. Such a jarring realization to know that these larger than life pillars are merely flesh and bone people who aren’t always right, make mistakes, and aren’t all good or bad, but varying shades of grey like the rest of us.
Honestly, this book was more heavy than I anticipated going in, but in a wonderful way. And the inclusion of Audrey Hepburn and a random teacher of Sabrina’s helped lighten the load a little throughout. They ended up bringing a nice balance to the dinner and the story itself. This was one dinner that just might change Sabrina’s life, and one book that will make you think about your own. Very well done and I look forward to reading more from this author.