Dinner Party Seating Chart for Deceased Literary Titans
There comes a point in the life of every avid reader when the thought occurs: if I could host a soiree for the great bygone writers of classics, who would I invite?
And, more importantly, how to pair them off to guarantee odd couplings, perfect matches, surprises, delights, and the occasional afterlife-rekindling of old life-grudges?
Here is a game you can play with any semi-literate friends. Swap out my biases for yours and you’ve got yourselves a fantasy salon for the ages — but more fun:
Lillian Hellman will be placed at the far-left-end but will lie and say she is seated at the head — casting herself as a brave heroine for the entire ordeal and threatening to sue everybody and their dog if they don’t agree. Thankfully, the sharp Mary McCarthy will be right behind so that she may unceremoniously pull the chair out from under her.
Across from them, David Foster Wallace and Hunter S. Thompson will share a glass of straight-Absinthe and a mystery pill while one-upping each other on who can most dramatically manifest their tortured-artiste vibes.
Meanwhile, Mr. Charles Dickens must be seated near the kitchen, as he will not once take his eyes off the endlessly inspiring servants and must feel near to them at all times. This will be a burden to his neighbor, the very disillusioned Guy de Maupassant, whose syphilitic hallucinations about the butler will really bring down the mood of the night.
At the head of the table will sit William Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam, where they will both accuse each other of being imposters, but admiringly — “that bit about “there is no heaven but here”… a stroke of genius!”
Mark Twain, twiddling his mustache, will be center-right, gazing envyingly at the handsomely dressed Oscar Wilde further down, who will plumb his endless pit of witticisms by simply observing his American counterparts John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway — both too preoccupied with spying to ever consider rewriting. Or just enjoying the moment.
Tennessee Williams will be strategically placed by the liquor-cart to ensure maximum references to more Southern drunk patriarchs — while nearby Byron and Keats try to manage their intensely awkward run-in with lyrical odes to their preferred ways of escaping the burdens of such an afterlife.
Marguerite Duras will be placed in a hammock in the far right corner where she will get auto-erotic pleasure from her plate. All this besides Anaïs Nin, seductively dangling a grape in front of Leo Tolstoy, who will feel compelled to conjure both a method and theory on how to resist — unsuccessfully. As Henry Miller will watch the threesome and take notes.
Emily Dickinson’s quietly passionate way with words will capture the attention of none other than her neighbor the Marquis de Sade. Then again, everything at this dinner will be a turn-on for Sade. He can’t believe he’s able to feel pleasure at everybody else’s pain after all that time just being dead.
Neruda, Gibran, and Lorca will stand the entire time, simply basking in the experience of being dead-alive while totally unmoved by their neighbors — fiction’s Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Huxley, and their “big ideas”.
Arthur Miller will refuse to name names. Even his own when being seated.
Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer will be placed near the little boy’s room, arguing over who gets the bigger chair, which is in fact not reserved for either of them but for Virginia Woolf, seated between these “men” — ostensibly to prevent any serious blows but also to further crystallize her resolve for a room of her own.
Kōbō Abe and Franz Kafka will sit upper-right, where they can challenge one another to who can most-surrealistically recreate the table arrangements, finally ending with a rope ladder lowering into a soup bowl where a woman will be found and a napkin being inexplicably refolded into a vermin.
JD Salinger will be invited, but won’t attend.
Further down the line, Jane Austen’s effortlessly wry remark about the main course being late will intimidate the hell out of her neighbor Dostoyevsky, who will be much too paranoid about the non-existent “fly that knows its place” in his water glass to ever rise to the occasion and make small-talk.
Nabokov will be seated center-left, unfurling a wickedly masterful and morally complex provocation about the whole affair on his badly-stained napkin, while across from him Gertrude Stein will offer up a playfully repetitive portrait about the rose centerpiece.
JG Ballard will be seated in the chandelier above the table, allowing him to bemoan the cruelty of their contemporary predicament with a meta post-modern blitz of himself, yours truly, the guests, the table, the wood that the table is made of, and the entire ghastly business of being a ghost.
Ayn Rand will be placed alone at the children's table, where she will have absolute freedom to scream incoherently and at great lengths about the misunderstood treasure of selfishness.
And, finally, Truman Capote will be left off the chart completely so he may wander about the room like a mouse in search of crumbs, scribbling everything the other guests say and do verbatim in order to compile the most explosive exposé of all time — and sweating bullets about it.
Don Be is a fierce advocate for sloths worldwide, a goji berry aficionado, sometimes-misanthrope, and ne’er-do-well shoebox-collector operating under an impenetrably watertight pen name — so don’t come a-knockin'.