Kelly Strom | Family dinner parties can get tense

Kelly Strom | Family dinner parties can get tense

Well, you've made it through another Thanksgiving. Hopefully the food was delicious and the company was enjoyable. I have a co-worker at the library who stated that he was going to try to cook his 25-pound turkey in the crockpot. I can't imagine how that turned out! Besides Thanksgiving, we have family dinner parties for a number of occasions. In these books, several of them are described — with mixed results.

In "The Garden Party" by Grace Dane Mazur, the dinner party is actually a rehearsal dinner for an engaged couple from two very different families. Meeting for the first time, both the Cohens and the Barlows are a little apprehensive about the evening. The groom's family is hosting, and the Cohens seem a little eccentric to the hardball Barlows.

Both academics, Cohen parents Pindar and Celia have quirky ways of viewing the world.

Pindar is absorbed in the study of ancient history and is particularly drawn to the idea of publishing a book of Babylonian recipes. Most of these are mentioned on random shards of pottery, so he is required to use a little imagination based on the common herbs and resources available in that region at the time.

Celia is a literature professor who is viewed as the glue that keeps the family together. She is painstakingly creating the perfect seating chart for all of the guests at this party but has run into a few snags in her plan.

Their son Adam is the groom, and he is a poet who longs to skip the formalities and just elope.

Adam has two sisters, one named Sarah, who spends most of the book perched on the roof of the house, clearing her head. She is secretly dating a Jesuit priest, who has been invited to the party.

The other is Naomi, who just returned home from a harrowing yearlong trip to work in the orphanages of Romania, where she contracted some nasty infections, and a disillusionment of the modern world. She spends the majority of her time in her room. Whew!

And that doesn't even go into the other various relatives on the Cohen side.

The Barlows are quite different. Incredibly stuffy and practical, the Barlows wonder how the Cohens even contribute anything to society.

The Barlows have good solid careers; lawyers, doctors and clergy. Their world is encompassed of estate planning, war crimes, tennis and golf. They are having a hard time understanding their daughter's attraction to one of the Cohens.

However, during this special garden party by candlelight, they attempt to set aside their differences. As the conversations grow, unions are forming and then broken through misunderstandings and family secrets.

Although these families would have never willingly come together as friends, they find that maybe they do have things in common. This is a great study of interpersonal relationships, behavior and the power of love.

"The Dinner List" by Rebecca Serle has a similar setup, with very different treatment. Ever play the game "If you could have dinner with five people, living or dead..."? Well, this novel takes that question to the next level. Why do we choose the people we do? Do we choose famous people, intellectuals, scientists or maybe those for which we have unresolved issues?

Sabrina is turning 30. On her birthday, she sits down at the dinner table to find an ex-boyfriend, a professor, an old friend, her father and Audrey Hepburn. Yep. So what is the connection between Sabrina and all of these guests? And are they also connected with one another?

As the dinner courses progress, so does our understanding of some of the trials in Sabrina's life, the choices she's made and the dreams she has.

Thought-provoking as well as compassionate, the story line showcases the author's ability to create a beautiful sentence and plot line. Although some of the characters at first seem incredibly shallow and infuriating, it's a testament to the author's skill that the reader still cares about their stories.

Our ability to empathize with the best friend and the ex-fiancé during these times of annoyance are key to getting the most out of the book.

You may still be thinking of this one a few days after finishing. So who would you invite to the dinner party?

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, ebooks, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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