Excerpt­ed from The Din­ner Par­ty: A Nov­el by Bren­da Janowitz

Sylvia left the most dif­fi­cult thing until the end. She had a habit of doing that — leav­ing things she didn’t want to do until the end. She’d done it before her wed­ding, decid­ing min­utes before she walked down the aisle who would give her away in her father’s absence. She’d done it before Gideon’s Bar Mitz­vah, decid­ing the day before who would light each of the thir­teen can­dles on his cake. And she’d done it the year Sarah and Bec­ca went away to col­lege on the same day, decid­ing only two days before which par­ent would dri­ve which girl. 

She was doing it again now. The night before her guests were to arrive, Sylvia was final­ly tack­ling the seat­ing arrange­ments. She knew the key to any suc­cess­ful din­ner par­ty was the place­ment of the guests. 

She put each of the names on tiny lit­tle cards. There was her fam­i­ly: she and Alan, her daugh­ters Sarah and Bec­ca. As she wrote their names in her fan­ci­est script, she couldn’t help but feel a tug of emo­tion. Anoth­er year with­out Gideon. She knew that his work with Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders was impor­tant, but she hat­ed the idea of him spend­ing the hol­i­day all alone, in a tent with no electricity. 

Next she filled out the cards for Becca’s boyfriend’s fam­i­ly. There was the Boyfriend, Hen­ry, and his par­ents, Ursel­la and Edmond. The Roth­schilds. She wrote their names slow­ly, care­ful­ly, adding a flour­ish to her script on the U in Ursella’s name and the E in Edmond’s.

Final­ly, she brought her­self to make out cards for Sarah’s boyfriend and his moth­er. She wished that Sarah would break up with Joe. And she wished she hadn’t been guilt­ed into invit­ing his moth­er. (She’d only done so after the poor woman had a near-break­down in the mar­ket on Front Street.) If any­one could ruin this din­ner par­ty, it was the Rus­sos. Sylvia hasti­ly wrote out cards for Joe and his moth­er. She wrote them so care­less­ly, in fact, that their names were bare­ly leg­i­ble. Valenti­na looked more like Bal­le­ri­na, which she most cer­tain­ly was not. 

Next came the tiny ster­ling sil­ver apples that would hold each place card. Sylvia start­ed with the eas­i­est ones. She and Alan would each occu­py a seat at the head of the table, hers clos­er to the kitchen so she could check on the food as the meal pro­gressed. Next, the Roth­schilds. The Roth­schilds should each have a seat of hon­or, so that was easy, too. Edmond would be seat­ed to her right, Ursel­la to Alan’s right, and Hen­ry to her left. Once the guests of hon­or were placed, she stood back from the table to admire her handiwork. 

Now came the hard part. Where would she put Joe’s moth­er? Valenti­na had nev­er been to their home before, but Sylvia knew that she’d be the most like­ly to cause a scene. She always spoke a deci­bel high­er than most oth­er peo­ple, like Stan­ley Kowal­s­ki yelling for Stel­la. And who knew what sorts of things she con­sid­ered prop­er din­ner con­ver­sa­tion? She would put Valenti­na on Alan’s left. Sure­ly he’d be able to man­age her through­out the course of din­ner. Alan had a way of speak­ing very soft­ly. As a child, he was cau­tioned to be seen and not heard. And now, as the head of pedi­atric car­di­ol­o­gy for Con­necti­cut Children’s Hos­pi­tal, he was accus­tomed to peo­ple lis­ten­ing care­ful­ly to him. There was nev­er an occa­sion to raise his voice; he always had the floor. 

That left the girls and Joe. She put Bec­ca next to her beau, and Sarah next to her. The only spot left for Joe was across the table from the girls, next to his moth­er. Maybe they would just talk amongst themselves.

From The Din­ner Par­ty: A Nov­el by Bren­da Janowitz, on sale April 12, 2016, from St. Martin’s Grif­fin, an imprint of St. Mar­t­in’s Press, LLC. Copy­right © 2016 by the author and reprint­ed by per­mis­sion of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Relat­ed Content:

Bren­da is the author of five nov­els, includ­ing The Din­ner Par­ty (St. Martin’s April 2016). She is also the author of Scot on the Rocks, Jack with a Twist, Recipe for a Hap­py Life and The Lone­ly Hearts Club. She is the Books Cor­re­spon­dent for Pop­Sug­ar. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post, Salon, Red­book, Bus­tle, The For­ward, the New York Post, Publisher’s Week­ly, Hel­lo Gig­gles, Writer’s Digest Mag­a­zine, and xojane.