Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blog Tour Review: Dinner with Lisa

From the Back Cover:

In the disastrous economic times of the 1930s, Joseph Gaston, a young widower with four children, arrives in the small town of Philibuster seeking security for his family. Instead, he faces barriers everywhere. He does his best despite great adversity, but the strain of feeding and protecting his family whittles away his strength. Finally, destitution forces him to consider giving up his children in order to save them. Enraged by his situation, he attempts one last desperate act—on the night he learns about the mysterious Lisa.

Heart wrenching, humorous and historically authentic, Dinner with Lisa incorporates the crucial issues of the depression: poverty, unemployment, drought and racism. In the midst of love and loyalty, trickery and despair, the ultimate message of the novel is one of hope and the courage to survive even the worst odds.

My Thoughts:

Dinner with Lisa is the moving story of one man's efforts to provide food, shelter, and hope for his children during the Great Depression. Joseph Gaston has been struggling to make ends meet since the bank foreclosed on his farm in Ontario. Living in a drafty one-room shack, with no job and four small mouths to feed, Joseph decides to take a chance on a job across the country, and, still mourning the death of his wife, he packs up his four children and sets out by train across the vast Canadian landscape for the little town of Philibuster.

In Philibuster he joins his younger brother, Henri, and his wife, and though their companionship and help with the children is greatly appreciated, Joseph has an even harder time making ends meet and faces a string of disappointments. And he's not alone. The town is dying, it's remaining inhabitants going bankrupt and going hungry, businesses closing every day and every day more and more men find themselves jobless and homeless. Headlines from all over the country tell the same story. But the Depression in Philibuster has an even darker side. The town's mayor, Winfield Westmoreland, is a wealthy business owner who profits from the destitute and rules the town. The men in the town want to protest and force reforms, but the mayor pays off police and civil servants to thwart any attempts the men of the town make to band together. Joseph mostly stays out of the fray, but he stands up for people who won't or can't stand up for themselves, like his friend Tom Wah, who is the victim of merciless prejudice. Over the course of the story he makes an enemy out of the mayor and the chief of police. And quiet, serious, stoic Joseph Gaston finds himself falling for the scandalous Beth Hoogaboom, an attractive, charismatic widow, who wears pants and swears and provides constant fodder for the rumor mill. But Joseph's future is far from certain, and worry and hunger are his constant companions. Just as he's facing his greatest fear and conditions in the town are worsening, tensions run high, and one fateful night they reach a breaking point. The town decides they've had enough of Westmoreland's corruption, and Joseph finds himself in the thick of it all.

Throughout Joseph's story the small town of Philibuster comes to life and becomes a character in its own. The historical detail and social commentary really bring home the hardships of life during the Depression, and that's tempered a bit by moments here and there of the human spirit triumphing with simple pleasures or small victories or answered prayers. I enjoyed the scenes where people gathered around the radio in Hoogaboom's store, listening to boxing matches or hockey games or The Shadow. Despite everything, there was still a feeling of camaraderie among the townfolk--they were all in it together. Snippets from radio news broadcasts and advertisements provide a nice, authentic touch. R.L. Prendergrast excels at description and in depicting the emotions of the characters. I found my heart pounding during a black blizzard and tearing up when Joseph pawned his wedding ring.

I did think the novel was really heavy on the narrative and short on the dialogue, though, and so I felt like more of the story was told to me rather than allowing me to experience it for myself. There are pages of historical explanation, long flashbacks to back story, and characters are introduced with lengthy description and history. I think this novel could have benefited from more concentration on the interaction of the characters and strengthening of the plot to tell the story, because it is a good story to tell. It's ambitious in scope, enlightening, and I did find the history fascinating. The setting came to life for me and I really liked the ending. It didn't wrap everything up in a neat bow, but I could rest easy in the knowledge that Joseph and the town had reached a turning point. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in the Great Depression and Canadian history.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars out of 5

Dinner with Lisa is on a blog tour!
View the tour schedule and
check out R.L.'s website!


  1. Thanks again for taking part in the tour. I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

  2. I read this one and loved it. Although it was about the Great Depression, it was not depressing.

  3. I really enjoyed this one, and was surprised by how much I liked it. I do agree with the short on the dialogue part.


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