What's for Dinner?
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James Schuyler's utterly original What's for Dinner? features a cast of characters who appear to have escaped from a Norman Rockwell painting to run amok. In tones that are variously droll, deadpan, and lyrical, Schuyler tells a story that revolves around three small-town American households. The Delehanteys are an old-fashioned Catholic family whose twin teenage boys are getting completely out of hand, no matter that their father is hardly one to spare the rod. Childless Norris and Lottie Taylor have been happily married for years, even as Lottie has been slowly drinking herself to death. Mag, a recent widow, is on the prowl for love. Retreating to an institution to dry out, Lottie finds herself caught up in a curious comedy of group therapy manners. At the same time, however, she begins an ascent from the depths of despair—illuminated with the odd grace and humor that readers of Schuyler's masterful poetry know so well—to a new understanding, that will turn her into an improbable redeemer within an unlikely world.
What's for Dinner? is among the most delightful and unusual works of American literature. Charming and dark, off-kilter but pedestrian, mercurial yet matter-of-fact, Schuyler's novel is an alluring invention that captures both the fragility and the tenacity of ordinary life.
what she said—she often spoke with food in her mouth—and deduced that her hearing was failing. “This is February.” “Today,” Norris said, “is the first of March.” “Isn’t this leap year?” his wife asked. “I seriously doubt it.” “What I mean,” Biddy said, “is that at my age the days, though I sleep less and they are therefore longer, seem much shorter and to go by more quickly. More rapidly, in fact, than I can say. It is a paradox.” Mrs Taylor shivered. “You’ll live a long time yet, Mother,”
don’t mind my asking.” “We’ve got to study. Then maybe we’ll fool around with the basketball. Or go uptown.” “If you go uptown, don’t stay late. Remember.” “I never do. Well hardly ever. Just that once when I lost track of the time.” “You certainly did. I was worried sick.” The doorbell sounded and one of the younger children went and admitted Norris Taylor. “I’m early,” Norris said when he had divested himself of his topcoat. “You’re still eating.” “Pull up a chair,” Mr Tromper said.
parents. “I see, Bertha,” Dr Kearney said, “you finally took the giant step.” “Sure,” Bertha said. “Why not?” “No reason that I ever knew of,” Dr Kearney said. “I was mad at them for putting me in here, among other things,” Bertha said. “I think that was it.” “We’re glad to see you looking so well, dear,” Mrs Hartz said. “Your brother sent his love.” “I’ll bet he did.” “Perhaps what he actually said was, ‘Say hello to Bertha,’ but I knew what he meant. A boy his age isn’t apt to be
need of a little rest in the afternoon and since I don’t nap, I like something to occupy my attention. Some of the acting is very well done.” Maureen laughed. “The other afternoon I heard the most hair raising screams coming from the set, so I went in to see what it was all about. This man was threatening to choke a woman with a necktie and there was Mother Delehantey sound asleep in her chair, literally dead to the world. The moment I turned down the volume, she woke up.” “Dead to the world,”
priest pronounced the fatal, final words, Bryan broke into terrible dry sobs and threw his arms around his wife. “Honey, honey, you’re all I have left. Let me die first. Don’t you desert me.” “There there there,” Maureen said softly. “There there. She had a wonderful life, happy and good right to the very end.” Michael was crying unashamedly. Patrick stood numbly still. All the parish was there to honor the matriarch. In the background Mag and Lottie stood side by side and dabbed at their eyes.