On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real-estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events bring these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone's life.
Family drama ala Zoe Heller with an element of wry darkness ala Ian McEwan. Ah, the characters, not quite sympathetic but recognizable... their constant striving, efforts, achievements, manueverings, and disappointments are not new but Vanderbes manages to present The Olsons freshly scrubbed and ready for the spotlight.
While Kijo and Spider don't get equal attention, their story is equally powerful. And the way these two stories collide may seem predictable but the twist left me stunned.
The buildup is neatly crafted - with well placed insights and a few revelations where you start to think you can figure out what is going to happen. But you can't. Not really. When the boom is finally lowered, my stomach dropped - breath held. It is a thing of beauty. What I find most provacative are the vapid, yet well meaning Olsons and the sense that the outcome is less of a tragedy and more of a comeuppance. Which may be the point of this of-the-moment fable.
Strangers at the Feast is easily readable, setting a trap that ensnares the reader through the final page. Kudos to author Jennifer Vanderbes for this smart tale that I'm still thinking about a month later.
Thank you to Scribner for the review copy.