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Mother for Dinner Reviews

Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander

Mother for Dinner

Shalom Auslander

3.67 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: Picador
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 4 Feb 2021
ISBN: 9781529052053

An outrageously tasty comedy about identity, tribalism and mothers.

4 stars out of 5
1 Apr 2021

"Dark humour comes to the fore in a laugh-out-loud satire of the tribalism that sets us apart"

While the portrayal of the preparation and ingestion of human meat is tough to stomach, Mother for Dinner is laugh-out-loud funny. In addition to challenging a tribalism that prioritizes what sets us apart over what we have in common, Auslander considers the burdens of history and captures the fraught dynamics in families of all origins. Underlying the dark humour, it is, dare I say, a tender tale.


3 stars out of 5
14 Feb 2021

"provides plenty of dark laughs and inspired comedic riffs"

Mother for Dinner is not as funny as those two books, but it provides plenty of dark laughs and inspired comedic riffs as Auslander describes the solemn yet preposterous details of Can-Am life: how should the loved one’s corpse be drained, cut up and divided? And with what instruments? How long should the interval be between death and digestion? And then there is the blessing: “May you be drained as your ancestors were before you”. The rituals, proverbs and aphorisms of Cannibal American culture have their obvious corollary in the religious community of the author’s childhood. Mudd even echoes the concluding Passover wish for “Next Year in Jerusalem” with her annual invocation: “Next Year in New Jersey”.

4 stars out of 5
13 Feb 2021

"Auslander’s parody of a Jewish family, with a mother who domineers even in death, makes a superb, if uncomfortable, comic novel"

On the face of it this is a novel which rages against identity politics. Seventh is sick of reading manuscripts by or about Jewish-Fourth-Wave-Lesbian-Socialist-Pro-Immigration-Anti-Vax-Latinx-Americans (in which Montaigne, who seems to be Mother for Dinner’s moral core or touchstone, is denounced as a ‘Bourgeois-European-Patriarchal-Franco-Roman-Catholic-Cisgendered-Male-Monotheistic-Apologist’). But Auslander is examining, with punishing scrutiny, his own heritage. (Come on: a mother who domineers even in death? A special ritual knife? Twelve male children? That last is a pretty big clue.) And he’s again torn between turning his back on it or embracing it. It’s this conflict which makes Mother for Dinner such an uncomfortably rich and comic novel.

4 stars out of 5
6 Feb 2021

"a comic novel about awful mothers and identity politics"

Mother for Dinner works for two reasons. One is that the conceit is inspired, ideally situated on the threshold of dream and reality. Taking his cue from Montaigne’s essay on cannibals, Auslander stretches cultural relativism to its limit. The Can-Ams become an every-minority (Seventh is variously mistaken for a Jew, an Arab, a black person and a Latino); their story becomes an every-story. The second reason is that it has a terrific motor.

4 stars out of 5
Stuart Kelly
27 Jan 2021

"It is not an easy read, even though the outrageous nature of the comedy is done perfectly"

 But once Unclish begins on the ceremony, with its elaborate schema of Draining, Purging and Partitioning, and the vexed question of side-dishes, you’ll need a pretty strong stomach. And yet, and yet: the end of the novel is a wistful, regretful, even sentimental paean to the importance of heritage, of the right to decide, of the right to change. It is, I might even say, almost sweet; which after the grotesque nature of what the reader has had to swallow is almost glorious. Auslander, in interview, described his rejected ultra-orthodox upbringing as being raised “like veal,” and this novel captures and analyses the ambiguities around what one is given and what one is offered magnificently. 

3 stars out of 5
Claire Lowdon
24 Jan 2021

"A satirical tale of Cannibal-Americans and their travails ends up being half-baked"

The set-up is ripe for plenty of gags about rotten meat and spoofy bits of Cannibal wisdom (“Drain all her oil . . . or Momma will spoil”). With no real-world reference, however, the satire is inoffensive, and we are left with a string of riffs that are never quite funny or angry enough. “I think things should feel raw and offensive,” Auslander told The Sunday Times in 2012. With Hope he served up a bleeding hunk of defiantly unkosher meat and dared us to eat it. It was powerfully tasteless. Mother for Dinner is tasteless in a different way: bland and overcooked by a writer worried about giving his guests food poisoning.

4 stars out of 5
Sam Leith
20 Jan 2021

"grotesque, extremely funny, weirdly touching and acute about families"

All this mugging and clowning and ferocity, all this bad taste, is to a purpose. Auslander’s last novel, Hope: A Tragedy, had its protagonist discover a foul-mouthed and geriatric Anne Frank hiding in his attic in New England. In this book, he pursues another version of the same theme: the intolerable weight of history, of its deadening solemnity, and the individual’s rage to throw it off. And you know what? Auslander’s resolution is of such life-affirming sweetness that – never mind that the word “asshole” appears eight times in a single short paragraph – you could almost call it sentimental.