Tuesday, January 4, 2011
After reading several books of non-fiction, I decided it was time to give another literary fiction title a try to make sure my brain can still handle it. It's been a while (probably since Room) since I've read truly great, adult, non-genre fiction. Turns out my brain can handle it just fine! Strangers At the Feast is the story of one family's tragic Thanksgiving Day dinner. They are the typical all-American family, but a shocking act of violence mars their holiday and each character must deal with the consequences.
The writing was excellent. It was a great change of pace to get into a character-driven work rather than a plot-driven work. While the book does center around a violent act, the majority of the book depicts the characters and the circumstances that lead to violence rather than the act itself. I would consider this book to be mostly character development with a small emphasis placed on the plot itself. The author does an amazing job of creating detailed, nuanced characters, who are both sympathetic and at times despicable. Throughout the book we learn the justifications for each character's choices as well as the repercussions, but the development of each character is obviously the most important part of the novel.
This isn't one that I just zipped through in one sitting, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I don't tend to read character-driven novels as quickly, but I certainly enjoyed the days I spent getting to know these characters. I particularly appreciated the nuances and subtle motivations revealed for each character and his or her actions. There were parts of each character that were completely unlikable, but also parts that were completely sympathetic. I found myself intensely disliking a character for a few chapters and then sympathizing with them suddenly as a new motivation was revealed.
I definitely recommend Strangers At The Feast to anyone interested in character driven books, literary fiction, or family studies. The interactions among the family is brilliant and complex and very realistic. It's not necessarily a fast read, but it's also around the 350 page length, so it's not terribly long either. The action at the end, and the excellent writing, propel the reader forward, making the book hard to put down.
Thank you to Wendy Sheanin and Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy!