- What: Supper Club
- Who: Lara Williams
- Pages: 292, hard cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flames
Next to reading, food is my favorite hobby. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Food? That’s not an activity.” I assure you it is. Food, as a hobby, comprises cooking, baking, eating, trying new restaurants and dishes, eating, reading about decadent meals, looking at food blogs and Pinterest recipes for hours on end, scoping out the best places to eat while you’re traveling, and then eating some more.
Yes, I love food, and I love it as a hobby.
I was looking forward to indulging in a book recommended to me by How Not to Die Alone author, Richard Roper, that incorporates this favored activity of mine: Supper Club by Lara Williams. Women getting together to eat and talk about food sounds like my kind of party. But while I certainly read some mouth-watering descriptions of food, this party fell flat for me. Maybe food and fiction just don’t mesh that well.
Roberta is a bit of an odd duck. She really likes alone time though feels enveloped by loneliness, has never quite found the ability to express herself, and doesn’t go after what she wants — mainly because she’s never considered what she wants.
Until she meets Stevie, an energetic and carefree woman always looking for more: more intensity, more fun, and more boundaries to push.
Although Stevie is only a few years younger than Roberta, she becomes her intern, but more importantly, she becomes her best friend and confidante. Finally, Roberta has someone who pushes her in all the best ways even if this results in some unconventional behaviors. The two develop a tight bond even becoming roommates, and a spark ignites in Roberta to want more from her life — and possibly more from Stevie.
Roberta’s newfound desires and passion inspire her to start a secret supper club with Stevie and any woman open to good food and some good ole debauchery. See, this supper club isn’t a formal affair. It’s one with booze, drugs, nudity, absurd feasting that catalyzes some serious weight gain, and dumpster diving for food. (You read that correctly.) Supper club frees these women from societal expectations and allows them to truly live their best lives without consequences.
It also forces Roberta to uncover the demons that have forever pushed her to the brink of nonexistence wherever she may be. Good food and good times don’t bury past experiences; instead, they force them to bubble up until they can no longer be ignored.
Emphasizing that point is this novel’s strongest quality. Roberta will never be able to find true happiness in her life or with other people and will always put up walls until she deals with her past. Isn’t that one of the greatest life lessons, that we can’t simply run or hide from problems and feelings; we must face them head-on?
“There is something bottomless about inadequacy, like you will never quite reach the limits of your own insufficiency.” — Supper Club
I give much respect to Williams for wanting to highlight that message; however, she doesn’t fully flesh out Roberta as a character, which limits her message and fictional purpose. I don’t truly know who she is. Maybe that’s the point because Roberta constantly hides. As a reader, though, how can I understand a character if I don’t understand his or her circumstances or experiences? Her past, though not rushed in terms of actual pages, certainly feels surface-level, which makes analyzing her a true challenge. This also makes understanding the value of supper club to her a challenge. If somebody has a backstory, make me dive into that so I have the full context for the narrative.
“I sometimes found [the characters’] preoccupations and mental states a little overdeterminedly millennial,” writes Lara Feigel from The Guardian.
I agree with that statement. All of these negative stereotypes we use to describe millennials, which I do not agree with and which anger me, combine in Supper Club to form a collective and not wholly accurate millennial. Subtract a lack of context and background, and you just get annoying individuals.
I especially feel this way about Stevie. She bothers me just like real-life contemporaries who share her qualities: people who are so over the top with their carefree attitudes that it seems forced and fake. I knew so little about her that I couldn’t move past this initial assessment. I wanted to better understand her but never received clarity on her role or true spirit, which made me even more annoyed with her.
These qualities remind me of another book drenched in foodie details: Sweetbitter. After watching the eponymous TV show, I came to respect Stephanie Danler’s 2016 novel a bit more, but if you read my toe-to-to review of Sweetbitter, you’ll find nearly the same descriptions and observations of the characters and of the writing as the ones I make above. If an author is going to hand me a book full of nothing but irritating people, there better be some good reason and context behind them. Again, do fiction and food just not go together?
“Boredom is the hollow space that comes before anxiety. It is a void that needs to be filled. And anything you have flattened and confined — any tiny, manageable bad thoughts, not to speak of the larger, less yield traumas — in this space they bloat, becoming big-bellied, and surrounding them are a thousand feeding horseflies buzzing and nipping and whipping up the radio static that drives a person made.” — Supper Club
What I was most looking forward to in Supper Club was the details of food, which would more or less become a main character. Don’t get me wrong: Williams excels at depicting different meals and how to cook them. (My favorites being the imagery of sourdough and spaghetti all puttanesca. YUM.) She incongruously layers them into the story though.
They come at the beginning of a chapter, but sometimes that chapter is one of Roberta’s past, and sometimes it’s during the present. (By the way, the timelines confuse me too.) I also can’t tell if Roberta is describing the food to me, if it is Williams, or if it is some third-party who isn’t the narrator but, like me, just really enjoys talking about food. It made for clunky — though salivating — reading. This cumbersome approach potentially distracts from a greater message.
Feigel argues that “The central theme here is women’s oppression by men, and Williams’s take on it is powerful and original.” I was too caught up in the characterizations — or lack thereof — and confusing food dynamics to even uncover this bit. I fully support the women giving a big middle finger to society’s rules and expectations, and I want more of it. If this truly was Williams’ goal with Supper Club, the novel’s unsavory qualities certainly interfered.
“It seemed so crass, so unacceptable, to be a woman who liked and was interested in food, and who dared to look like she did.” — Supper Club