“There was dim light coming from the dark room and he was suddenly irrationally afraid, as he had been as a child, that if anyone stepped inside, if she stepped inside, she would plummet to the center of the earth.”
For those unfamiliar with Joshua Ferris, myself included, what better introduction is there to a critically-acclaimed, award winning-author than a collection of short stories? As introductions go, I’d have to say the pleasure was all mine. In The Dinner Party and Other Stories, Ferris proves to be a masterful storyteller who captures self-doubt, miscommunication, and uncertainty with exquisite deftness and beauty, and left me hungry for more.
Making an impressive first impression, Ferris serves his readers a variety of compelling tales with unusual twists. Each of the eleven stories in The Dinner Party is a mini-feast, some slightly more satisfying than others, but all deliciously rich and unexpected. From “A Night Out” and “More Abandon (Or Whatever Happened to Joe Pope?)” to “The Breeze”, his stories range from random acts of temporary insanity to insightful studies of emotional hunger and fear of futility, and yet at no time do they feel overly heavy thanks to the author’s sense of timing and humor.
The writing is crisp and the stories move, mostly at a city pace, but what stood out most for me was the various array of intriguing protagonists. Like the vegetables in his title story, Ferris’s characters are all “bright and doomed”. Neurotic, deluded and perfectly flawed, they each find themselves caught “abruptly in the middle of something” and are often guided by their own worst instincts. Yet despite the loneliness, despair and desperation, there are instances of hope and for a select few, maybe even redemption.