I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of this book. Its publication date is July 9, 2019.
Some books that focus on food make you so hungry you have to eat while reading, holding the book in one hand, moving food into your mouth with the other. Other books about food repulse you, make all food unappealing and leave you not wanting to eat until you put the book behind you. For me, Supper Club was the latter.
If you’re a fan of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or Otessa Moshfegh’s Eileen (or her newer My Year of Rest and Relaxation from what I understand, though I haven’t read it) then you will probably enjoy Supper Club and its sumptuous extravagance, its lingering gaze on uncomfortable moments and its harsh but honest look at female sexuality and friendships. But while I didn’t dislike either of those novels, they left me uncomfortable and a bit confused and that’s the same feeling I had with Lara Williams’ novel.
Am I uncomfortable because I am uncomfortable reading about sex like this? Yes, a little bit. Am I confused because female friendships are not usually portrayed this way? Because my closest relationship since I was twenty-one has been with a man? Yes, maybe. But I think what makes me hesitate about books like this, books that are clearly trying to say something Big and Important about feminism and a woman’s place in the world is that they seem to tell their stories as if this is It. This is the book that finally tells us what the Female Experience is. But it’s not my female experience. It’s a true one and a valid one and there are definitely things here I recognize but it is not the only version.
Our main character is Roberta. At the time of the book’s main events, she is just under thirty and drifting through life. She has a decent job that she enjoys but isn’t anything impressive. She has no friends and hasn’t been in a relationship in years. She likes to cook a lot. In alternating chapters, Roberta details her years at university. Her alienation there, her loss of virginity, her relationship with an older man. She senses that life is passing her by and wonders if, somehow, she is not worthy of what everyone else seems to have.
Then, at 28, she meets Stevie. The two women bond instantly, forming a close, co-dependent, almost sensual friendship. The kind of friendship that is more common between fourteen-year-olds but kind of makes sense here because Stevie and Robert both seem stunted in various ways. Together they form the Supper Club, recruiting a few other women to join them in regular feast nights.
At Supper Club they eat past satiation, they feast until they vomit. They drink. They consume. They use drugs and take off their clothes. They dance. They dress outrageously. They gain weight and enjoy the feel of the extra heft of their bodies. They refuse to make themselves smaller. They take up space.
I like the idea. I like what Williams is trying to say here – women are so often conditioned to make themselves smaller, to move out of the way. From a young age we are told it is important to be aware of not just how you look but how you are perceived. What does that person think of you? What about that person? Women are too often told to make themselves smaller, both figuratively and physically. We are taught to apologize, to make way. And so, Supper Club explores what it might look like if you just stopped all that. And once you do, can you still return to the trappings of normal life? Can you have a normal relationship with a man when you are so caught up in this single female friendship?
Neither Roberta nor Stevie are particularly likeable, but that’s kind of the point. No one loves them as much as they love each other. Or at least that’s what Roberta thinks. In the end, I wasn’t sure what I wanted for Roberta – or even what she wanted for herself. The ending Williams offers is satisfyingly ambiguous. So while the novel left me uncomfortable, I also think that’s the point of it and there is plenty to think on here.