Herman Koch's The Dinner (FIC KOCH and AD FIC KOCH) is a meal best served piping hot, with no spoilers to distract you from the author's masterful reveal of one family's inner life and what that family's choices say about privilege, violence and modern-day parenthood.
The tale, already a bestseller in Europe, brings to mind Yasmina Reza's darkly comic play "God of Carnage," which gives audience members ring-side seats to the slowly devolving discussion between two couples over a spat between their two young sons. (Find the film version of the play, called simply Carnage, in our DVD collection.) Here's the trailer:
Similarly, Dutch author Koch brings together two married couples over a meal at a fancy restaurant. The polished setting contrasts greatly with the altogether grim subject matter they have convened to discuss. But whereas Carnage is liberally seasoned with helpings of humor, The Dinner is laced with menace and foreboding.
Without revealing too much, we learn that the men in both couples are brothers: Paul, a former teacher, and Serge, a prominent politician. Both have teen-aged sons. The Dinner is told through the eyes of Paul. On the surface, he comes across as an educated man and a devoted father living a comfortable life with his wife and son. But over the course of the dinner, Koch peels back layer by layer, and every onion skin adds another disturbing element to the mix.
What makes The Dinner such a delicious treat is the thoughtful pace at which Koch writes, dropping a nugget here and a morsel there, tempting us further into dark recesses hidden by civility. It's also a terrifying read for its complete plausibility, forcing us to ponder our own moral boundaries. How far are we willing to go to preserve the peace of family? What transgressions are we willing to overlook for that, and what transgressions are we willing commit?