The Dinner List

It’s a psychological exercise. It’s also a way to find out more about another person, or simply a jumping off point for a discussion among friends. But even if you’ve never created a list, almost everyone, at some point, has been asked to name the five people, living or dead, who they would invite to dinner if they could invite anyone. In her latest novel, Rebecca Serle follows Sabrina Nielsen, a young woman who shows up for her 30th birthday dinner and finds the people on her list seated at the table. It makes for an interesting evening and a marvelous read.

Sabrina made the list years ago, at the prodding of her best friend Jessica, while they were both college students. For Jessica, it was an assignment for a spirituality class. For Sabrina, it was a way to placate Jessica for an hour or so. For some reason, Sabrina kept the list, and over the years made a few modifications. But she never expected, when she showed up for her annual birthday dinner with Jessica, to find the people on her list to be waiting for her: Jessica; Conrad, her former philosophy professor; Robert, the father who abandoned her as a child; Audrey Hepburn; and Tobias, the on-again, off-again love of her life. As they progress through appetizers, main courses, and desserts, the dinner guests also move through regrets, resistance, revelations and, ultimately resolution.

Serle, author of several young adult titles and co-creator of the television series they inspired, takes readers through an evening of wish-fulfillment and harsh realities in her first adult novel. Given the guest list, it will come as no surprise that there are issues to unravel. The novel alternates between chapters providing readers a seat at the birthday dinner, and chapters following Sabrina as she lives through the decade, between the creation of the list and her birthday dinner (focusing primarily on her tumultuous relationship with Tobias and her changing relationship with Jessica).

Serle creates a captivating character in her portrayal of actress Audrey Hepburn. Looking very much like the character she played in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, but imbued with the wisdom and understanding of her later years of service with UNICEF, Serle’s version of Hepburn is a magical presence at the table, able to speak authoritatively when necessary, but also allowing silences to say more when needed. The other characters are nicely drawn, if not quite as dramatic. The relationships between them and Sabrina will resonate with readers because they so accurately reflect how relationships can, and often do, change simply as a function of growing older. This is a universal constant, regardless of whether the individuals involved are parents and children, instructors and students, friends and/or lovers, and it happens even if those involved may not wish it.

The Dinner List is a charming, heart-warming and heart-breaking book about how it feels to be young, and what we lose and gain, as we become adults. Serle nicely captures the transition that occurs as we lose the last vestiges of childhood in ourtwenties, and move into adulthood and realize that not everyone we wish will follow us on that journey.