Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: R.L. Prendergast's DINNER WITH LISA

I grew up with my father’s stories of the Great Depression. Only it never seemed so depressing at all. My father was part of a huge Irish-American family, growing up among some 30 cousins in New York City. He spoke wistfully about taking potato sandwiches to school because there was no meat. And how he hated rice, because eating it meant that they couldn’t even afford potatoes. (To this day, my dad won’t eat rice unless it’s safely tucked under a plate of Chinese food!)

R.L. Prendergast’s Dinner with Lisa gave me a new appreciation for my own family’s Depression era history. So much so that I already put the book on my dad’s Christmas list. It’s that good!

Joseph Gaston is out of luck. His beloved wife died right after the birth of their fourth child, and his small farm has been taken in bankruptcy. His only hope for his family’s future lies a week’s train ride away on the other end of Canada, in a little town called Philibuster, where his Quebecois brother Henri and his wife have helped him secure a coveted job at a local dairy. Without a job, he might soon be forced to give up the children to a relative – or worse, the government . Prendergast does a good job of outlining the bleak options available to the poor in mid-Depression, as well as explaining the failed policies that brought them to that place. Sometimes the situations seem eerily familiar:

Joseph had heard stories of camps where men spent eight hours a day clearing brush and piling stones. The workers could have been employed productively, cutting timber to make houses for the poor, or constructing public buildings, but for the fact that some big contractor or lumber company with political connections would raise a stink. Free labour would kill their businesses. The rich knew how to stick together.Kindle location 1775
I remember my dad telling stories about his uncles getting work with the W.P.A., and I always love seeing the results of those projects when I visit National Parks in the US. The book made me think about how bad the situation must have been for the government to have taken such extraordinary steps to put people to work.

Joseph soon finds that the little town retains its Wild West character, with a crooked mayor, divided loyalties and a deep hatred of outsiders that constantly threaten to undermine his chance at a new life. But it’s also home to a group of industrious free spirits who are making the best out of a very bad situation, finding fun, food and fellowship whenever and wherever they can. The supporting cast brought Prendergast’s novel to life for me: Beth Hoogaboom, the rowdy dry goods store owner; Police Chief Montgomery Quentin, who knows the dark side of the mayor’s policies, but remains under his thumb to keep his job; and Tom Wah, a Chinese immigrant fearful of losing the family he has built in Canada to the town’s bigotry. I also loved the intimate way the Prendergast brought us into the lifeworld of the Canadian plains, with black blizzards and freezing temperatures and lots and lots of gophers.

Dinner with Lisa was a surprising title. I sat down to read it and didn’t put it down until I finished. Prendergast is a new author to me, but I will definitely seek out more of his work. This is highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction, Canadian fiction, and fiction with Western themes.

I read this book as part of a Premier Virtual Author Book Tour, and received a copy of the book in return for my honest opinion. For other opinions, check out the links here.

This is another hit for the Historical Fiction 2012 Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry. Looks like there is little chance of me not finishing that one!


  1. I don't think I've read any books about how people in other countries survived the Depression. This sounds excellent.

    1. I read Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell about a million years ago. It's about England's Depression experience. But that was the only other one I could remember off hand. I think you'd enjoy this, Kathy!

  2. "I sat down to read it and didn't put it down until I finished."

    As far as I'm concerned, that is the highest praise I can receive.

    Thank you very, very much!

    If any of your readers choose "Dinner with Lisa" for their book club, I am taking part in a limited number of discussions (over the phone). I can be contacted at rod(at)RLPrendergast(dot)com.

    Kindest Regards,

    R. L. (Rod) Prendergast

    1. Wishing you the best of luck with your novel. It really was a pleasure to read!

  3. Thanks so much for taking part in the tour. I'm so glad you loved Dinner With Lisa as much as I did. I didn't want it to end!

  4. sounds really interesting! I'm going to keep my eye out!

    1. I think you'll enjoy the layers in this book, Marie! On the one hand, it tackles some difficult subjects, but there's quite a lot of humor as a respite!

  5. What an interesting find! Rarely is historical fiction something I can read in one sitting so I will have to look out for this one.


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