Reading this book is like listening to a talkative stranger on a bus. You start out nodding along with their story, trying to be polite, but as the stops go by and the details get weirder, you experience a slow-dawning realization that this person is totally freaking nuts. You want no part of this, you're desperate to end the conversation, but with your stupid nodding, you gave all the encouragement this psycho needed, and now your only option is probably to boost yourself out the tiny emergency exit on the roof and bus-surf your way to safety.
That's how I felt as I got deeper and deeper into Koch's expertly rendered first-person narration. Paul Lohman is one of the creepiest unreliable narrators I've ever read. Most chilling is his ability to, when it serves him, act and speak fairly naturally, as if he is a completely normal person. But of course, we're in his head, and as he gradually reveals his history, his true feelings, and his sociopathic motivations, we understand that he is one cold-blooded dude. What's crazy is that he's such a powerful manipulator, he can make freaky stuff sound benign, even clinical.
Paul and his wife, Claire, have plans to meet with Paul's brother, Serge, and his wife, Babette, for the eponymous dinner. They're meeting because they need to discuss their sons, who are both fifteen years old. The boys have gotten in some kind of trouble, at this point vague and unnamed, and the parents need to discuss it and figure out how to proceed. Everything begins civilly, perfectly in line with the upscale restaurant Serge has chosen for the meal. Things begin to go off the rails, though, as the characters talk around the situation. Inevitably, the claws come out, and we find out just how far these parents are willing to go to protect their children. (It's way farther than I thought. Like, shockingly far. Just warning you.)
If the holidays sometimes make you hate people a little, this is the perfect book for you. Snuggle up with it and a cozy blanket (or a cocktail, either one will keep you warm) after a long day of Christmas shopping, and channel your rage from bad drivers and pushy shoppers and rude cashiers into the hate-filled, violently aggressive mind of Paul Lohman. Chances are, he won't even notice.
Bottom line: Read this book. It's not just about dinner.