Brenda Janowitz Talks About Her New Novel, 'The Dinner Party'


Holidays give families a chance to gather, reflect on the last year, and create new memories. At least that is the ideal version of the concept. Brenda Janowitz's lovely and fast-paced novel, The Dinner Party, captures a much more realistic view of the intricacies of a family gathering.

I love how you used the four questions as a frame for your novel. I am curious about what came first; was it the idea of using the Passover Seder or the Gold family?

The Gold family came first. The first idea I had for the book was Chapter Fourteen, where Sarah's boyfriend insists on wearing a "tie substitute." That chapter is still one of my favorites, and it was featured in my PopSugar First Look. From there, what came to mind was the scene in the kitchen with Sylvia and her middle daughter, Sarah. Everything would seem fine on the surface, but then when Sylvia asks her daughter about her boyfriend's outfit, there would be tension simmering underneath. I knew I wanted the novel to be about this idea of letting go, and how only when we let go of the past can we move on with the future. Passover is the perfect metaphor for this.

A big takeaway from this book is letting go. What does letting go mean to you? Why is that such a difficult skill to master?

I have a hard time letting things go. Old playbills, movie stubs, and even relationships that don't work. Now that I'm married with kids, I'm getting better, but one of the things I was thinking about was this idea that you need to let go in order to move on with your life. It was something that I was grappling with in my personal life, something I'm always grappling with in my personal life, so I did what all writers do: I wrote about it.


One of the strengths of the novel is how you dip into everyone's minds; which character did you enjoy the most? Which point of view was the most difficult to write from?

Thank you! I really appreciate that. One of the challenges in a book like this, where you're writing a close third person from the point of view of many (many!) characters is making each character distinct.

I certainly enjoyed writing from Valentina's perspective, since she says what's on everyone's mind. I never do that.

Men are always tough for me to write--I'm such a girly girl that I find that my own way of speaking sometimes gets mixed up in there.

Your acknowledgements section credits "good friends who will read countless drafts." What advice do you have for other writers about finding their tribe?

It is so hard to find your tribe! Both in your regular life and in your writing life. I think it's important to believe in your own talent, but also to know when you should be listening to a critique. Whenever I get a tough critique from someone whose opinion I really respect, I always save the first draft, and then tell myself that I'll try the changes, safe in the knowledge that I can always go back. (I always end up using the edited version, of course.) Sometimes it's about giving yourself permission to completely tear apart something you wrote, something you loved, something you thought was perfect.

But it's a challenge finding voices you can trust. You have to know which critiques to listen to, and which ones to avoid. I love taking writing classes, so that's a great way to find like-minded people (and siphon out the ones that are jealous/ have their own agenda/ don't get your stuff at all). You need to find people who love what you're writing, and who know how to edit.

But always, and I mean ALWAYS send first drafts to your best friend or mother or sister or whoever you've got in your life that will tell you that your first draft is perfect. That will help steel you for the real work to come.

This interview first appears on Women Writers, Women's Books.