Reviewed by Jowana Bueser
By Lara Williams
304 pages. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Course 1: HORS D’OEUVRES
Lara Williams delivered a carousal celebration of female friendship, an earnest exploration of fears, and a passionate prosecution of social expectations.
Course 2: AMUSE-BOUCHE
Roberta is stuck in a mindless job and has never felt more alone in her life. That is until she met Stevie. Supper Club, a secret society of women wildly feasting on food in abandoned places, is born out of their friendship. The all-female bacchanalian affair is both a safe space from society and space for abandoning all things safe and socially acceptable.
Course 3: SOUP
Feminism has made a significant comeback this decade. Spurred by diversity and intersectionality, the socio-political movement has never been more alive in the collective consciousness of people. One of the more recent and memorable phrases feminists rightfully co-opted is “reclaiming my time”, made popular by California Representative Maxine Waters during a heated congressional hearing. Supper Club is more of “reclaiming my space.” The members of the club all had traumatic experiences that hampered their ability to feel safe. Gorging collectively on food in abandoned places at dark provides them a tangible opportunity to feel part of a community once again.
Course 4: APPETIZER
The author explored topics and themes through a spectrum and through a dichotomy. Space, its abandonment and reclamation, is a recurring theme. Through her lens, fear and freedom are seen at opposite ends but deemed essential to one another. Singlehood is a source of fascination and disdain. The ideas of a purposeful life and an aimless existence form part of the narrative on existential crisis.
Course 5: SALAD
Despite the scale and substance of the subjects, the author has a palpable poise in her craft and character development. Told in a non-linear format, with brutal honesty through Roberta, the story weaves in and out of her current and pre-Supper Club life. Interesting characters are introduced and fleshed out at various points only to meet them sparingly as the story unfolds. The lead characters, though they are in almost all the chapters, seemed hidden behind frayed curtains with enough frazzling for us to glimpse their fates. Once these curtains are raised, the emotional impact is justified and satisfactory.
Course 6: FISH
Before proceeding to the main course, a note on cooking: Roberta considers cooking a radical act. This struck me for some reason because most of the time, cooking is considered a traditional and domestic affair. Yet cooking as a radical act makes total sense. The processes of plucking feathers, ripping bones, and pulling innards out of animals; the slicing, dicing, and mincing of plant-based ingredients are, in a manner of speaking, barbaric. The process of cooking itself: combining ingredients and using techniques to create a dish feel like a concealment of the brutality. That cruelty is necessary to attain nourishment is quite an idea.
Course 7: FIRST MAIN COURSE
The Supper Club itself is not the center of the story; it acted more like a supporting character or a literary mechanism to push the narrative. But it is a spectacle. To read the grotesque abandonment of all things polite and sophisticated is fulfilling. Credit goes to the impeccable detail the author poured into each of their stories. The metaphor might be a bit on the nose (i.e. stuffing in empty lives) but I guess the first rule of Supper Club is no one talks about subtlety.
Course 8: PALATE CLEANSER
Most stories centered around food raises the question: are the details on food delectable enough? So, different dishes are introduced during each club congregation but I found the random dishes scattered throughout the chapters far more fascinating. From sourdough to spaghetti puttanesca to the preparation of caramelized onions, the detailed descriptions serve a higher purpose of providing metaphors, subtler in this case.
Course 9: SECOND MAIN COURSE
The main course of the story is the probing of the themes I mentioned earlier. But the most succulent chunks of red meat are fear and freedom. The characters are mostly women in their 20s carving independent lives and careers, who have all experienced a violation of their personal spaces by families, friends, or complete strangers. Fear drove a stake right at the heart of their freedom. The author brilliantly steered the spectrum through her takes on anxiety, boredom, purpose, and the calming presence of female friendship. (There is a memorable paragraph about anxiety, seeping in reality, that I had to breathe between sentences because it felt like reading a personal diary.)
Course 10: CHEESE COURSE
Still feeling pangs of hunger? Settle in for delightful bites of rebellion. In the social media age of immaculate food pictures, Supper Club transports us to a raw, messy, and hedonistic underground food club: carbs are not shunned but rather summoned and gluten is greeted in great numbers. It is quite a rebellious act nowadays to eat without snapping a photo for the rest of the public to see, no?
Course 11: DESSERT
The debut novel of Lara Williams is an embarrassment of riches. Her mastery of the craft is superb. Her grasp of the characters is impeccable. Her understanding of the themes is nuanced. Supper Club is an indulgent manifesto of feminist rage.
Course 12: MIGNARDISE
Cap the meal with a piece of chocolate paired with either a cup of coffee or tea. We all need to take comfort once the last page is turned because nothing is indeed more terrifying than a woman who eats with abandon.
Supper Club is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online. Get a copy here.
Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. You can find her on Twitter @jowanabueser.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]