What do you do on a Sunday night when all your friends have moved to California and you’re left alone in Minneapolis to take care of your family’s Schnitzelhaus? You start a dinner club, of course!

That is the premise of Soleil Dobransky’s first full-length novel. Dobransky’s short stories have already won her praise, and her 2011 collection, Mashable Monsoon, won her a Sevigny Notable Book Award, putting pressure on her to write a knock-out debut novel.

Unfortunately, Stan’s Late Night Dinner Club is does not compare at all to her short stories. Dobransky’s short stories are tightly-woven, claustrophobic suspenses that burst with energy at their climaxes, and unwind to a mellow resolution. But Stan’s Late Night Dinner Club plods from chapter to chapter like a mediocre seven course tasting menu.

The premise is interesting enough. Stan, the eldest son of a restauranteur couple, quits his software development job to take over his parents’ Schnitzelhaus. His father has Alzheimer’s disease and cannot cope any longer with day to day operations, instead sitting in a corner and telling old war stories about a war he never fought in.  Stan’s mother, twenty years his father’s junior, uses his father’s illness to finally explore her own interest in the arts: joining an artist’s collective, renting a loft in an industrial part of town, and making found-item art. Stan’s three brothers are unreliable as business partners, even managing to be incompetent as hosts in the restaurant, a job Stan tells them, “requires all the know-how and brain power of a Walmart greeter”. In the midst of all this, Stan finds out that the tech company he was working for was bought out by a large California-based company and all his friends and coworkers are relocated to the San Francisco Bay area, all expenses paid.

Stan is not a happy camper. To alleviate his feelings of depression, he starts a late night supper club in the Schnitzlehaus. It begins as a sort of secret society for the local restauranteurs where they meet to discuss business, complain about staff, and eat piles of MacDonald’s food. However, it all gets complicated when the owner of Maison Mesclun accuses the owner of Sid’s Salads of industrial espionage. A rift develops in the supper club, with sides taken, and old grievances brought to the surface.

Dobransky keeps the reader guessing about whether there is more to the feud between the two greenery eatery owners, but the tension never builds, and the resolution is anticlimactic – or it would be if there had been a satisfying climax.

In an interview recently with the online literary magazine, LitLit, Dobransky said that she wanted to create a space where people are allowed to be and explore themselves, and she wanted to mirror the conflict in Stan’s family in the conflict in the supper club. However, the conflict in Stan’s family is never really explored in much detail. For example, it’s never revealed why Stan’s youngest brother refuses to use the word “restaurant”, and always instead uses “eatery”, “food house”, and “grub dispensary”. Meanwhile, the supper club is discussed in such meticulous detail, with even recipes for Green Goddess dressing compared side-by-side, that all the humanity in it is removed.

In the end, nothing happens. This is the worst part of Stan’s Late Night Supper Club. One is left at the end of the book feeling that nothing happened. As if one has had a meal consisting only of flavoured foams.

 

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