I am going to be upfront and say that I will probably never read this book again. The Dinner List is not a great book, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a bad one either. I certainly do not regret having read the book, but I have to admit that it is not the most intellectually thrilling read I have ever had. The Dinner List has been a great vacation book for me, in that I found it a quick read, and the premise was fun to entertain. The idea is that Sabrina, the protagonist, has made a list of the five people (alive or dead) that she would like to have dinner with one day, and lo and behold, readers are witness to that very dinner.
Before I read The Dinner List, I would have said that the premise is also a good one, which is still true, however I feel that it was disappointingly carried out. I am all for a mystery, but the lack of explanation as to how these five people ended up all sitting together around the table with Sabrina feels like a cop out. There exists so much more depth that could have been given to what could have been an excellent story that ends up feeling like merely a good one.
The text alternates with time stamped chapters detailing what stage of dinner the four guests are at and a past tense narration of Sabrina’s history with Tobias, her ex who has a place at the table along with her favorite professor, absentee father, best friend Jessica, and the #1 thing that this book has going for it – Audrey Hepburn. The switch back and forth between time periods is something that I have seen done before to great effect, and while I do think that it functions well in the text, I was dismayed upon reading this book at how many plot holes seem to have slipped through its cracks. Small things like the age of minor characters, times at which things happened, and dietary habits were not particularly consistent, and while I was not totally removed from the reading experience, neither was I a fan.
Plot holes and lack of explanation of the afterlife aside, my biggest issue with this book was the lack of diversity. The Dinner List was also incredibly lacking in terms of representation, as all of the non-white characters have a very “token” feel to them. Matty, who is my favorite character who we far too little of, is the only latinx character that I can think of, and while he does serve an important role in the story, that role is more to provide a commentary on Sabrina and Tobias’s relationship, which note that I find incredibly unhealthy. In terms of named characters of color I can only think of two more off the top of my head, and neither have very large roles. I’m not certain that David (Sabrina’s one gay black friend) even speaks or any purpose at all except to act as fodder for Sabrina to talk about how he always has a new man on his arm, and in one instance to act as a counterpoint to Tobias. Similarly, the only mention of lesbians existing in this text is in the context of Sabrina noticing a (non-speaking, unnamed) couple in the background and thinking about their relationship in the context of her and Tobias. This all goes without noting the lack of trans characters, characters with disabilities, neurodivergent characters, or characters who live in genuine poverty, as despite the fact that Sabrina is broke and barely making rent she is still able to afford a $2,500 apartment by herself when Tobias is unemployed, all while still paying for utilities and transportation and food, among other expenses.
I am not at all saying that I hate white heterosexual romance, because I do believe that everyone who wants a chance at love deserves a chance to find it and find it represented. What I am saying is that everyone deserves that chance, and the narrator of this text is remarkably self-centered and as such there is very little representation outside of her sphere, and what little there is I find disappointing. Jessica and her husband Sumir seem to have what to me appears as a beautiful interracial relationship that I would have been happy to see were it not put in such a negative light by Sabrina’s incredibly judgmental lens.
Disheartening amount of diversity very much in mind yet set aside for just a moment, I simply cannot abide the lack of proper explanation in the text of the rules behind how the living and the dead are at once together again. Without that, I couldn’t get behind anything that they communicated to one another and thus struggled with the book.
While I will probably never read The Dinner List again I do believe that many people will enjoy it, just not me. If you’re looking for a quick read and don’t mind a bittersweet ending, you can pick up a copy of The Dinner List when it comes out on September 11th, 2018.