I opened The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle thinking I was getting ready to read something akin to a romantic comedy where the story would be cutesy, quirky, and fun. Moreover, I expected all of the characters to get the fairy tale ending they most desired. Boy, was I wrong.
Instead, I read a story that is quite sad. Less quirky and much more analytical, the story explores Sabrina’s life in detail. Her dinner guests get the pleasure of dissecting her past decisions as they see things and weighing in on all the things she did wrong (or right). While I understand the premise and the end goal of the dinner, it certainly is not a dinner party I want to attend.
The entirety of The Dinner List reads like one long therapy session even though the story flashes between the dinner discussion back to Sabrina’s memory of the events being discussed. As we learn more about the other dinner party guests, the story takes on an even greater therapy tone as Sabrina comes to grips with her feelings surrounding each guest (other than Audrey Hepburn). The story is not particularly fun or cute. The quirkiest thing to occur is that the dinner party occurs at all with the guests present, a statement that makes a lot more sense after you read the story.
As for that fairy tale ending, there is not a one in sight. Instead, Ms. Serle wants us to feel hopeful that Sabrina is on the right path to find her happy ever after. Personally, the ending depressed me. To have to explore such weighty topics on your birthday in a public setting while eating when you did not expect your birthday dinner to include five extra people, the whole thing seems like a nightmare to me. This is especially true as you uncover certain surprises about those guests.
I do think The Dinner List is a poignant story. At the same time, I think it is an introvert’s nightmare dinner, and it makes me rethink every ideal guest list I ever created over the years. The story disappointed me only because I expected one type of story and read another. Had I been better prepared for the type of novel it actually is, I suspect my feelings for the story would greatly differ. As it stands, I can only say that while I didn’t enjoy completely The Dinner List, there was enough there to keep my interest for me to finish it.