Review: Strangers at the Feast
Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes
From the cover:
On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events brings these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone’s life.
Strangers at the Feast is a delightfully wonderful and well written book as well as thought provoking. I haven’t read anything by Jennifer Vanderbes before reading this novel and I came into it without any expectations so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed and loved it.
There’s something about dysfunctional families that I find really fascinating although I wouldn’t necessary categorize the Olson’s family as dysfunctional. It just wouldn’t be fair to them because they are so much more than that. Gavin, the father, is a Vietnam War veteran, who became withdrawn and reserved after the war due to the negative feelings toward the war. Eleanor, the mother, graduated from Wellesley, but instead of putting her diploma to good use, she because a stay at home mom instead. Douglas, the oldest child, and his wife, Denise, are suffering from the real estate crash and despite assuring everyone they’re fine, their relationship is slowly collapsing due to their massive debt. To round out the adults is Ginny, the brains of the family, who recently adopted a mute 7 year old daughter from India.
The book spans one day, Thanksgiving, with many flashbacks into the character’s lives. As each character takes turn narrating the events of the day as well as their lives, the readers get a fuller understanding of the character and realize why they made the costly decisions that profoundly affected their lives. Along with the flashbacks, the characters also added in some foreshadowing to the tragedy that was alluded to in the synopsis. The foreshadowing worked quite well and it kept me interested in the plot and the story line.
The readers are able to get inside of the character’s mind and learn about the deep dark secrets that they keep away from their family. As the secrets are revealed, I realized that these characters only knew what’s on the surface and didn’t know anything really important about their family. I love the double meaning in title, Strangers at the Feast, because it could refer to Kijo and Spider, but at the same time it could also refer to the individual family members because of how much they knew about each other. As I read the book, I started to think about my own family and how much I knew about them. As we get older, I feel like my cousins and I have drifted apart and it’s so much easier for us to keep secrets from one another because we rarely see each other anymore.
Despite how much I absolutely adored the book, I did have some issues with the ending. You know I’m an optimist at heart and I’m one of those people that love happily ever after endings so I was a little disappointed by the ending of this book. I don’t want to give too much of it away and spoil it for anyone, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting and I was hoping for something else.
If you’re looking for a book with realistic characters that resemble people you know, then you may want to pick up a copy of Strangers at the Feast. It’s filled with a great crew of characters with funny and amusing anecdotes while bringing to light several issues in our society today. I definitely enjoyed Vanderbes’s writing and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Easter Island.