James Schuyler's utterly original What's for Dinner? features a cast of characters who appear to have escaped from a Norman Rockwell painting to run amok. In tones that are variously droll, deadpan, and lyrical, Schuyler tells a story that revolves around three small-town American households. The Delehanteys are an old-fashioned Catholic family whose twin teenage boys are getting completely out of hand, no matter that their father is hardly one to spare the rod. Childless Norris and Lottie Taylor have been happily married for years, even as Lottie has been slowly drinking herself to death. Mag, a recent widow, is on the prowl for love. Retreating to an institution to dry out, Lottie finds herself caught up in a curious comedy of group therapy manners. At the same time, however, she begins an ascent from the depths of despair—illuminated with the odd grace and humor that readers of Schuyler's masterful poetry know so well—to a new understanding, that will turn her into an improbable redeemer within an unlikely world.
What's for Dinner? is among the most delightful and unusual works of American literature. Charming and dark, off-kilter but pedestrian, mercurial yet matter-of-fact, Schuyler's novel is an alluring invention that captures both the fragility and the tenacity of ordinary life.
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