Book Review: The Dinner List

Rebecca Serle, The Dinner List
Flatiron Books
2018, 288 Pages, Hardcover

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

We’ve all been there: Ice Breakers and get-to know you games, all posing the same question: if you could have dinner with someone, dead or alive, who would it be? Well, what if you could have dinner with five people? In Rebecca Serle’s The Dinner List, the main character gets the experience everyone dreams of. In an excruciatingly-relatable coming of age story, one woman gets the chance to have dinner with the five people who arguably influenced her life the most.   

Sabrina, celebrating her thirtieth birthday walks into a restaurant expecting her annual birthday dinner with her best friend, Jessica.  While she does end up having dinner with her best friend, the table also unexpectedly seats four more: her father, an old lover, her college professor, and… Audrey Hepburn. As she sits, confused, she’s is reminded of a list she had made as a college student at USC, almost a decade prior after meeting him.

Throughout the night, Sabrina is forced to reminisce about her younger years, through the frame of a decade-long romance with him, Tobias, her former lover.  The story switches from present to past  while depicting scenes of her all consuming romance. Sabrina gets the opportunity to ask questions about the most perplexing moments of her life. But as the dinner party progresses, Sabrina’s questions turn from purely conversational to dramatic attempts to come to terms with her life, and the dinner, trying to lead Sabrina to closure. But as her birthday birthday comes to an end, there’s a realization— dinner can’t  last forever which means leaving this moment in the same reminiscent place in her mind as the memories she had been trying to understand all night.

Although, the plot is somewhat predictable at times, the lyrical writing style creates a romantic ambiance to the story overall. For example, with the impending end of the dinner, Serle describes a climatic realization: And yet for the first time in a year I feel a seed of something different, something bright, new. Why you told me this. This moment highlights the most important theme of the book, in which Sabrina comes to terms with the debilitating effects of her lamented romance.

The story, in essence, is meant to take the reader out of their own life. But the existential questions the situation engenders causes us to put ourselves in Sabrina’s shoes, realizing our own problems, or reminiscing on moments of change and growth, depending on the reader. In trying to understand Sabrina’s life through writing, Serle not only gives the reader a clear view into her circumstances, but also let’s them work to the conclusion with her: closure.  

Although The Dinner List deals with intense undeniably-human emotions, the plot is very simple. This is a Sunday-afternoon-with-hot-tea book. It’s for romantics, focusing primarily on the emotions that drive people, glittered with pretty language. However, considering the heavy humanistic themes it deals with, it will not lead you to a sudden epiphanic moment, as the story is more inwardly focused on personal emotion, but more likely put you to sleep in a hammock.