Book Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

“Sometimes it is impossible to move forward without understanding what happened.” Conrad.
“What did happen?” Audrey says.
I keep my eyes on the table, but I still feel his eyes on me. I wish you were seated where Conrad is. I wish I couldn’t smell him—heady and dense—or find his foot under the table, so close that if I wanted to I could hold it against mine.
“Everything,” I say after a moment. “Everything happened.”
“Well,” Conrad says. “Let’s start there.”

In a riff off the classic question: which five people, alive or dead, would you invite to dinner, Rebecca Serle crafts a story that encompasses one woman’s coming-of-age, first true love and the parts of her past that helped to shape her into the person she is presently at her thirtieth birthday dinner. Each of the five people serve a distinct purpose in telling Sabrina’s story—acting as a mirror through which are reflected her unresolved issues and deepest desires. As the story moves along we are taken on a journey through her young adult life, friendships that come and go, the nagging loss of a father she barely knew and her first real taste of love and of heartbreak.

I never questioned that Tobias was the one for me, but what if all this missed opportunity, strife, and heartbreak didn’t point to the epicness of our relationship but instead it’s precariousness? It’s fragility. Maybe Jessica was right- we hadn’t grown up, we hadn’t taken responsibility. I somehow believed the universe would do it for us. I believed it tonight, still sitting here. But what if the work had been up to us all along? Timing is everything, Jessica told me when he left. And tonight, we are almost out of time entirely.

The chapters alternate between the dinner, over the course of a few hours as Sabrina and her guests consider why they are in attendance and share what their relationship is to the birthday girl, and flashbacks to various points in Sabrina’s life—experiences and memories both pleasant and not that highlight critical moments between Sabrina and each of the other dinner guests. Over the course of nearly five hours Sabrina examines, from different angles, her upbringing, love life, college years, career and friendships in a meaningful and heartfelt way. The result is a deep look into one woman’s life and the many instances of fate and decision that led her to where she is today. Romantic, sincere and humorous, The Dinner List will leave you thinking about those big moments in your life and imagining the conversations to be had at your very own dinner. Who would you invite?

I look around the table. This dinner began as a reminder of all I had lost, but as I watch them now all I can feel is profoundly grateful. For a father who never stop loving me, for a movie star gave a generation her grace and who gave us one dinner tonight, for professor who challenges his students, and for a best friend who is still here.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Flatiron Books

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