‘The Dinner Party’ by Joshua Ferris – Some Awful Guys

 

‘The Dinner Party’, stories by Joshua Ferris (2017) – 246 pages

What ideally happens when I read a short story collection is that when I complete a story I am looking forward to reading the next story even when I am not reading.  That is exactly what happened to me while reading ‘The Dinner Party’.

In the first story, ‘The Dinner Party’, a guy who thinks he is so witty and sharp and clever gets his severe come-uppance so that by the end of the story both the guy and the reader is left speechless.  It took me a couple times reading this first story to tune in to Ferris’s often raucous style, but after I did I ate these stories up.

These stories are modern, mostly urban, and high energy to the point they are almost manic.  It is good to see such a talented writer tackle what it means to be alive today. Ferris not only gets the speech of these modern guys and gals down, he also gets their thought patterns, their ways of approaching things.

In the final acknowledgements, Ferris has a special word to say about the men in his stories:

“Finally a special thanks to two women, my agent, Julie Barer, and my wife, Eliza Kennedy, who never make the mistake of confusing the author for his (awful, male) characters, who in turn embolden the author to make these characters more male and awful still.” 

Yes, the men in these stories are often pretty awful.  My favorite story here is probably ‘More Abandon (or Whatever Happened to Joe Pope?)’ which is about a guy who stays late at his office after everybody else has left.  He starts visiting his fellow workers’ offices to see how they are decorated.  One woman’s office is decorated in a cute pig motif, and another woman has her office decorated as a memorial to her dead daughter.  The guy gets the brilliant idea of switching the decorations in the two offices.  He realizes he will get fired the next morning, but he can’t help himself.

Besides the comedy, and there is a lot of comedy here, these stories can get poignant and emotional.   I found the following lines from the story ‘The Breeze’ about the essential differences within a married couple both insightful and moving.

“There was an essential difference between them – what he might have called her restlessness, what she might have called his complacency – which had not surfaced before they were married, or if it had, only as a hint of things to come, hidden again as soon as it peeked out.  When they argued now, as a married couple, it was often over this essential difference.” 

Frequently in a story collection an author will put their best foot forward in the first story, and then the stories get gradually or suddenly weaker.  In ‘The Dinner Party’ the stories are all first rate with no drop off whatsoever.

 

Grade :    A

 

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8 responses to this post.

  1. So, we want this author to write a novel next, yes?

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Joshua Ferris has written three novels, one (‘Then He Came to the End’) of which I read, but I wasn’t really excited about him until I read these stories.

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      • I should have looked him up on Goodreads first. It looks like his novels and the short stories are rating around 4 stars. I’ll check out the library….

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        • It is not the cool thing today to get excited about a white male writer from the United States, but I try not to let the cool thing influence my evaluations.

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          • Oh, I am so tired of identity politics interfering with books. Are we going to have a generation of people who won’t read The Grapes of Wrath because it’s by a male white writer? We read to expand our horizons, to enjoy a diversity of voices and perspectives, not to corral them into gender and colour! How can we understand each other if we play these separatist games?
            It’s a stupid thing to do anyway because (as the South Africans found) classifying people by colour doesn’t work because heritage can be so mixed, and then, what box would a transgender author be forced into? Read by both or read by neither? It makes me cross.
            Yeah, I know, I’m not supposed to say any of that because I’m ‘privileged’…

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            • I believe we agree. I read a lot of translations, but it is also nice to read something written in my own language once in a while.
              I have all these balances I try to keep, old vs. new, male vs. female, even to some extent urban vs rural. The thing is I was reading a lot of world literature already by the 1980s.

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  2. I love Josh Ferris – Then We Came to the End is a favorite.

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