The dread that infuses Strangers at the Feast starts quietly. The Olson family is gathering for Thanksgiving—single daughter Ginny is hosting at her slightly rundown home in Westchester County. It’s the first time her parents, Eleanor and Gavin, will meet her newly adopted daughter from India. It’s also the first time they’ve seen her brother, Douglas, since the real-estate crash left him and his wife bordering on bankruptcy.

It’s a day fraught with the same potential as most family gatherings: hurt feelings, tipsy misunderstandings, sibling squabbles over long-simmering resentments. But what ultimately happens—after Ginny’s oven fails and the hungry, overwrought clan decides to move the party to Douglas’ opulent home in Greenwich—is much more sinister.

My children are grown and healthy adults, thought Eleanor. I have beautiful grandchildren. She would thank the Lord that everyone was at peace, everything was in order. She could happily buy the groceries and weed the garden because everyone she cared about was well. But if someone were to try to threaten that? Was there a length to which a mother wouldn’t go?”

Eleanor discovers the answer to that question on Thanksgiving night: At the same time the Olsons are sitting down to eat, two teenagers are out on a mission of their own to right a terrible wrong they are sure Douglas’ company inflicted on their family.

Jennifer Vanderbes scored a Washington Post “Best Book of 2003” nod with her first novel, Easter Island. Her follow-up is every bit as compelling, a tour de force that traces the long history of two families’ decisions to their inevitable, chilling intersection. The richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling make Strangers at the Feast a must-read study of the lengths to which families will go in the face of unimaginable threats.

 

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