Discussion: “The Dinner Party,” Joshua Ferris

Please post your response to the Joshua Ferris story “The Dinner Party” here. This week is an free-for-all–no questions this week, so respond to whatever aspect of the story interested you!

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14 thoughts on “Discussion: “The Dinner Party,” Joshua Ferris

  1. By Samuel Antezana
    In “The Dinner Party,” Joshua Ferris manages to bring out the worst of a married couple waiting for two of their friends to show up to a dinner they had prepared at their home, not knowing that they are not going to receive their invitation. After visiting the residence of their friends, the husband manages to find out that the friend which his wife is more close to, is throwing her own party and did not invite them, not even for his wife’s sake. I believe after this scene that I read what seemed to me like one of the saddest stories I have ever read. The husband returns home to tell her wife that they were home, fueled to get revenge on her close friend by telling his wife all of the horrible things her friend had said to him about them as a couple, insulting their relationship and saying that he changed his wife in a bad way. However, upon seeing the worried condition of his wife (who is on the verge of tears, over thinking the reason of her friend and her wife not attending the dinner they worked hard to prepare) he decides to give her a white lie and say that they were just sleeping at home and that they completely forgot about the invitation. After this, the wife angrily gets up and begins to pack all of her things as if to leave him, but he hugs her and she cries, signalling the end of the story, with the final sentence being “She cried as if he were not holding her, as if he were not in the room with her, as if he were not in the world at all” (Ferris 85). This was heartbreaking to me because at the beginning of the story we are introduced to this couple and they have a cute sarcastic way of joking around with one another, and though they bicker over who will prepare what for the dinner, they are like any other loving couple, but seeing this final scene made me believe that the wife cares more about what is less important in her life than her husband, who she doesn’t even know did something that goes against what his primary intentions were. It was just a sad story in general, but the way Ferris created their relationship and constructed the interactions made it all the more uncomfortable (in a good way!).

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  2. One part that I thought very interesting was the last page about how the woman packed some of her things as if she were going to leave her husband. I think this scene to be a little too dramatic and as it was said int he story “preposterous”. The action was too much and I did not like how it ends with her crying and it saying as if he was the one not there. It should have been written the other way around, where it is as if she was leaving, which, I believe would make a bit more sense in my head, as she is the one leaving him. And if she were leaving him, wouldn’t she be trying a bit harder to leave, and would not have just stopped and began to cry. And shouldn’t the husband have some more emotion as his wife is leaving him. All together I did not like this scene/ ending to the story.

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  3. The Dinner Party tells the story of a couple that is preparing for the arrival of guests (the wife’s oldest friend and her husband). We see in the opening see that while they admit this couple is okay, they do not seem to be extremely fond of them, especially the husband. He seems them as predictable and boring and sees this entire dinner party as a facade. He even asks his wife why they invite them over. As the night goes on and the couple still hasn’t arrived the wife gets worried and begins calling hospitals. The husband eventually decides to go check on them and is surprised to see that they were actually throwing a dinner party and did not invite them. When the husband confronts his wife’s friend she in turn confronts him about the fact that they know he doesn’t really like them and that he is the reason his wife and her have grown apart. She continues to tell him that her friend made a big mistake in marrying him. When he returns home to share with his wife what happened, he quickly discovers that she may already have a sense of what happened and decides to instead tell her that they were asleep. She, in a fit of emotion begins packing her bags, and he reaches out to hug her, but it looks like a sudden emotional wall was constructed between them and he can’t console her.

    This story was one of the saddest that I’ve read. Sam hit on this already, but it was really surprising to see how the wife reacted toward the end when we saw what appeared to be a solid friendship between two lovers. The husband is obviously deeply in love with his wife and throughout the first part of the story he continually seeks her company. They banter with one another and tease each other. This makes the end scene extremely surprising and really upsetting. Going back through the story of course we are giving insight into this particular night and we have no context about how much the wife has changed or how the husband is in general. And in the opening scene it is the husband that is really affectionate, and our narration is centered around him. Reading this scene and going into the interaction with the friend’s wife, I began to really hate her and her husband for what they did, because even though they talked poorly about them, for his wife’s sake he was willing to have them over. There is no harm in having an opinion about people. However, the wife’s friend actively rejected her friend. Our insight into their relationship early on also does not match what the wife’s friend said about him. I was also caught of guard not by the wife being upset as much as her blaming him. Again these all suggest our perspective is limited and there is much more to the story. That of course could be understood as an underlying narrative to the story, that in relationships, both romantic and platonic, there are multiple perspectives and that they are really complicated. It can be really hard sometimes to identify who the bad guy is.

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  4. There were a few parts of the story I enjoyed, including the diction and dialogue. I liked the way the banter was written, it seemed realistic and I laughed out loud at some moments.

    There was one thing that really struck me about this story more than anything else though. It is a perfect example of what we talked about in class with Harry Potter; you can’t pick up on certain things until you’ve read it all. It was mentioned twice in the story that Amy’s rings, “her wedding ring and the one with the diamond,” were sitting on the counter in the kitchen. They were on the counter instead of her finger. You would not know that this foreshadows her leaving him until you read the very end of the story. I thought this was done brilliantly and made me think about what I previously read as soon as I read that she pulled out a suitcase. Before that last part, I thought it was just another little detail that was written into the story, like the meat sitting out. Anyone who wears rings knows that you take them off when you do the dishes or prepare a meal. We all have either a ring dish or a window knob that holds our jewelry while we get our hands dirty. Because of this, I didn’t think anything of the fact that they were still on the counter. I enjoyed having something so simple and obvious surprise me.

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  5. Joshua Ferris, author of The Dinner Party, uses a very distinct writing style in order to fully immerse his readers in the story that follows the lives of his characters. This immersion is something I consider to be incredibly significant to the piece as a whole because in a narrative such as this, the readers should feel as if they are a part of the story; they should be able to experience everything that happens, just as the characters themselves would.
    One technique that Ferris incorporates into his writing in order to achieve optimal immersion is that he decided to begin the story as if it was starting in the middle of a thought. The narrator gives us no background information regarding the world we have just entered. They simply continue their train of thought like an actual person would. By starting his story in this way, the narrator avoids the immersion breaking qualities that would be caused by a self-aware narrator. This means that the narrator doesn’t know that they’re telling a story so they continue on like normal and they never, for lack of better phrasing, “break character.” This allows the reader to enter and experience the story as seamlessly as possible, which in turn creates a strong sense of immersion. We are given background information at a slow and natural pace; only when it’s necessary and never in excess.
    By developing this immersion, Ferris manages to present a story that is strangely compelling and unique in its own right. Through his use of immersion in the world he has created, Ferris is placed into the unique position of being able to subtly guide his readers in the direction he sees fit, while still creating a believable story that flows naturally.

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  6. My favorite aspect of The Dinner Party was its tone, pacing, and the shift that took place from sarcastic humor to sadness. The beginning of the story introduces a couple that seems playful, harmless, and witty. The husband is clearly a pain in the neck but he seems to mean well and just be very sarcastic. His thoughts aren’t the kindest toward the couple coming to dinner but they’re thoughts I feel like every husband has had before a dreaded dinner party. The tone of the story was filled with dark humor and the witty banter between the couple seemed to paint a picture of harmony even in sarcastic cynicism. This first scene’s pacing was kind of slow as we hear the husband repeat a lot of his negative yet funny thoughts. As soon as the couple starts to worry about the missing couple the pacing seems to quicken and the reader can feel the anxiety Amy does as she resorts to calling hospitals to try and locate her friends. The pace and tone completely change when the husband shows up to the couple’s house and realizes there is a party. The reader is suddenly exposed to the idea that the husband isn’t just sarcastic and a pain, but he is a permanent wedge/detriment in his wife’s life and is the cause of her isolation from her friends.
    This shift is highly uncomfortable as a reader because it challenges everything I thought I gathered from the beginning but at the same time it is totally captivating and makes me want to learn more. Suddenly the tone is much more somber as we get to realize that the funny and immature protagonist is possibly just a bad person and not so funny. Learning all of this in one scene makes the pace feel much faster, especially when he arrives home and starts almost frantically looking for Amy in fear that she has left him. At the end we are left with realizing that what seemed to be Amy playing along with her husband’s banter may have been a cover for her true feelings of sorrow and regret for choosing the life she now leads. I really enjoyed this read and the many twists and turns it makes that force the reader into a reality they may not have been expecting.

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  7. “Something unpredictable.”

    There’s a shift in the story when the husband gets his wish (wishes usually don’t turn out well). The tone changes from something light as the tensions rise. Before this shift, the husband is complaining a lot about the event he and his wife are expecting to occur, but it can be seen as good-natured and half-serious; it’s understandable if assumed he goes through the same experience over and over again, and his wife’s company should be a safe space for him to complain in such a manner. After the shift, conflict arises in the couple beginning in the period of time that the husband is not quite serious about their guests’ absence.

    The story is written in a fabulous and completely functional ratio of dialogue, action and narration. The husband’s characterization was shown in many ways such as the things he would say, the actions he would make, the rate at which he would become serious about something and the decisions he changed his mind about. One moment I found particularly significant is when he decided to attempt to spare his wife’s feelings when he had been so set on saying everything that happened. However, she appeared to have seen through it and deduced the reason why they were stood up (her friend’s feelings about her husband), thus why she was spurred to pack a bag. Essentially, the question becomes whether he is a bad person or a good person with a number of bad qualities. I do believe he is the latter, but the information to make any conclusion is scarce. The story does not show what the husband is like when not dreading and impending dinner party, or whether the wife is aware of her husband causing any regular alienation, for example.

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  8. The most interesting part of “The Dinner Party” for me was how it did not meet the expectations I had at the beginning of the story. First, the title and the way the story begins made me think that the dinner party being referred to in the title was the party being thrown by the main couple, waiting for their friends to arrive. However, by the end clearly there is another party going on and maybe that is the true dinner party that is alluded to in the title–the one to which our protagonists were not invited. The story also set me up to believe that this story was going to be sarcastic, witty, and maybe even humorous. I thought it was going to be a funny, relatable story about a couple bickering under the stress of entertaining guests. However, by the end, the story takes on a completely different tone that is more sorrowful and perhaps even a little angry. This took me by surprise as a reader, but in a good way. It did not meet expectations, but instead it left me shocked and saddened by the ending.

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  9. First of all, I was struck by how dialogue was used in this story, and the distinct voices of the husband and wife. It felt very natural, and I liked how there speech would devolve into these very funny and distasteful tangents like when the husband describes sneaking alcohol into the pregnant woman’s drink. The story to me seemed to be about these fragile ceremonies (i.e. the dinner party) that suburban people engage in, and how their social structure can cause people to fester with resentment and against others and themselves. I also liked how there is a kind of reversal at the end, where for the whole story we see these two people insulting there “friends” behind there back, and even though they recognize that these “friends” probably feel the same way, this knowledge becomes much harder to handle when that resentment is felt as a certainty.

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  10. I love how this story reminded me so much of real life and experiences I have actually been through. Personally, I’ve always been scared of marrying someone I fall out of love with, and this story seems to encapsulate that feeling so well. I could feel the unhappiness and the how discontent the wife feels. In contrast, I could also feel how much the husband loves his wife. From the dialogue you can tell the guys is a bit immature and his wife thinks he is too macho.

    This story felt so natural, the dialogue was perfect in that nothing was explicitly said and this one moment between the couple was so beautifully written. i could just imagine seeing everything as though I was in the room with the couple myself.

    I appreciate the way ideas were also passed into the readers mind. the image of the ring on the counter kind of gave away there were marital issues even before we found out.

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  11. The Dinner Party is a story about a couple who is awaiting the arrival of another couple who happen to be their friends. The man is less enthusiastic about the upcoming dinner because the couple is closer to his wife than they are to him and so he has somewhat of a bad attitude during the beginning of the story. One thing I liked about the beginning was how the couple was characterized. Watching those two banter with each other was great and Ferris really handled the characters well. It seems like Ferris had a real handle on his story and knew what he wanted it to be and was careful to make sure there was none of the information, perspective, dialogue was wasted it built towards something nice and the twist at the end with the other couple completely blowing them off without even having the decency to call or make an excuse really hits hard. The way that the reader sees Ben desperately struggle with what to say to his wife is done excellently and his attempts to lie to his wife to spare her the truth shows how much he cares about her. The subtle way that he plugs in the straining marriage throughout the story is done well and that plot thread is brought to fruition at the end of the story where she cries as if his holding her does nothing to comfort her at all.

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  12. Does all “serious” modern literature have to be sad? Seriously, I mean, jesus christ people, the overwhelming tone of everything I have read in both this class, last workshop, on my own, my OWN writing, because of reviews, etc. etc. is all depressing stuff. The classics? Often depressing, but not necessarily so. I’d say the further back you go the happier they get. We’ve long since abandoned the hero’s journey. Now we sit down and describe situations, just the meandering inherent sadness of middle class american life. Sure, it’s more realistic, and perhaps that’s what we’re going for, but even when realism kind of spiraled off into post modernism and then got reinvented with a millennial twist in k-mart realism, sadness stayed, melancholia was pervasive. Just an observation. Do you have to be depressed to write? Does writing, or all art, by nature, feed off negative emotions? Is art a coping mechanism? This turned into a think piece real fast. I’m off track.

    I thought the dialogue in this story was “cliche.” It was going for “original” and “edgy” and “witty” but the wife just came off like a copy-cat edgemaster supreme while the husband responded how I would expect a writer’s vision of a witty-yet-obnoxious husband would respond. The part with them hypothesizing about what would happen at the dinner party – I wrote a story almost exactly like that like three years ago. It sucked. This one is done much better but still. Maybe because I’ve done it it seems “trite” or whatever, but still, yaddayaddayadda, I was expecting more from dialogue.

    The story itself took a couple left turns and I read the entire thing really quickly and it hit me in the gut. It made me feel things which is what a good story should do, I suppose, even if it is all the same sense of sadness and melancholia I get when reading all modern short stories. At least I get to feel something before going back out and living my empty life. 7/10.

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  13. “The Dinner Party” definitely went in a different direction than what I had expected upon reading the first few paragraphs. What I had thought would be a cynical story about a dinner party with Amy, her husband, and her friends turned out to be a more depressing (but still cynical story) about getting stood up and cut off by old friends.

    I liked the dialogue scenes in the beginning of the story, where the characters Amy and her husband were having a witty back-and-forth banter while she was preparing the food for their dinner. Based off this I got the impression that they were a playful and happy married couple. However, even before the issue of being stood up arose, I could tell that there might be a note of dischord between the two; although she played along with him, she also seemed a bit annoyed at his immaturity. When things got sour, this dischord widened into a chasm; Amy was worried about her friend while her husband was being very nonchalant and apathetic about the whole thing, much to her displeasure.

    The fact that this piece went in an unexpected direction made it compelling for me to read, and the element of mystery the author created kept my interest. I believe taking a story in a different direction than what it seems to be at the outset is a great way for an author to make their story memorable.

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  14. (Josh Tan)

    This story really appealed to me because I myself wrote a story similar to this, however without more of a “WTF” moment at the end rather than the sad ending that Joshua Ferris wrote. One thing that really got me was that the conversation and the issues between the couple felt very real. Nothing ever popped out at me for me to say “Wow, that’s totally something that wouldn’t happen”. No, I was invested in the story because of its relatability. The ending itself was really powerful as well. However, I’m going to have to agree with Cory about the sadness of the story, and how it reflects a bigger problem. A lot of stories are created with these sad shocking twists, or whatever. This is unfortunate because there are so many different genres or moods that short stories can embody. Stories can be humorous, action-packed. lesson-embued. Stories can take on many shapes, but for some reason there are many sad stories saturating the ether.

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