It’s Thanksgiving Day, 2007, when we meet the Olson family. Eleanor and David, their daughter and her newly adopted Indian daughter, their son, daughter-in-law, and their two children all come together for what everyone hopes will be a delicious, drama-free meal. This family is no stranger to difficulties and stresses, and over the course of their evening the usual issues do arise. But what the Olsons do not expect are the seventeen-year-old kids from the nearby housing project crashing their holiday. And when these two worlds collide, tragedy strikes and this family will never be the same.
The main reason I decided to read Strangers at the Feast is because the premise reminded me of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, a book I absolutely loved. To be honest, these books weren’t much alike besides the fact that I really liked Strangers at the Feast too! It ended up being different from my expectations, but still an excellent read.
What carried the book for me was, hands down, the extremely well-drawn characters. When a book is written from multiple points of view as this one is, it can be difficult for the author to create whole characters that the reader can really get on board with; however Vanderbes did exactly that. I didn’t necessarily like all of the characters, but I believed in all of them. The Olson family was complicated and dysfunctional (as most families are) and each family member played their part in making the family that way. The ways in which they each reacted to one another and dealt with the conflicts between the other family members were completely authentic and always in keeping with the characters’ personalities. Although, as the story takes place only over a single evening, they are only seen in context of this family so I suppose it’s natural that their personalities (to me) would seem to be molded in large part by the other family members. Did that make sense? I’m not sure. In any case, what I’m trying to say is that I loved the interactions between the characters and I found them all to be really genuine and believable.
If I have anything negative to say about Strangers at the Feast it would be that there wasn’t enough of it. The connection between the Olson family and the teens who broke into their house was very interesting to me, and I would have loved to learn more about that whole back story (we learn about it, just not enough for my tastes). And I felt like there was this huge build-up to the climax of the story, and then the most important part of the whole story was super short in comparison. I honestly would love a sequel to this book, to see how the characters I’ve fallen in love with deal with the aftermath of that horrific Thanksgiving night.
Overall, I really enjoyed Strangers at the Feast. It was extremely well-written, the characters were fantastic, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the story. I only wish there was more of it!