...masterfully translated ... In elegant, flat prose, Ybarra links her grandfather's very public murder to her mother's swift and private death from colon cancer. In doing so, she puts the increasingly popular form of autofiction to exceptional use. The Dinner Guest is a seamless blend of art, politics, and private life ... The Dinner Guest takes on the floating spirit of a re-enactment. The novel is anxious to enter a past reality, but unable to do so. This anxiety gives fiction a purpose in a book that otherwise could have been a memoir. Ybarra uses her imagination as a literary battering ram, breaking down the door to the past ... The Dinner Guest has a helpless energy that novels like Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle and Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station ... Ybarra is far from the first writer to use autofiction for political purposes ... But she makes that decision remarkably clearly, and executes it remarkably well ... The Dinner Guest operates as a fuller obituary, a memorial to both Ybarra's mother and her grandfather. It is a quiet act of public mourning, and of resistance to public memory.
... succinct and inventive ... Ybarra’s research is evident ... Ybarra brings us through the process with the objectivity and forensic eye of a true crime writer, allowing glimpses of poignancy through her connection to her subject ... Ybarra expertly blends techniques of fiction and non-fiction ... The tone of her debut has the conversational appeal of a really well written blog; it makes the reader think about the subjects and connect with their plight ... the writing sparkles throughout ... Although short on word count, by the end of The Dinner Guest, Ybarra has done herself and her family proud in a story that is full of light and shade.
... a bold examination of silence and mortality ... The short, declarative sentences of Natasha Wimmer’s translation reflect the direct, minimalist prose of the Spanish original, a style Ybarra chose partly to allow her some distance.
Ybarra does not take the expected steps afforded by this authorial freedom. There is no attempt to dive into the interiority of those involved, no imagined experience of her grandfather’s time in captivity, no characterization of the kidnappers, or, for that matter, of anyone. If there is any emotion prevalent in the section on the kidnapping, it is disorientation; information is given to the reader without pause ... Whereas the first section was devoid of the political, the second is blind to anything resembling class structure ... Ybarra’s tendency to let things like death, politics, and wealth speak for themselves seems to have the aim of inviting reflection on part of the reader. The sparceness of the prose and swift movement between topics certainly aid this argument, yet those same two elements also rob the novel of a much needed density ... What exactly these politics are and how Ybarra intends to act on them is left unclear. If a reader is prepared for it—and perhaps if they are also scions of a powerful family—such a revelation may prove explosive. If they are not, if they are still hoping for the novel to dig its heels into one of the many territories it flies over, they may be left scratching their heads.
It’s in some respects a daringly ambiguous debut, in others a book that doesn’t seem to notice its own lapses or lacunae ... it’s as if 2011 were a lifetime ago, and just as obscured by its documentation as the kidnapping and murder: nothing in The Dinner Guest is quite within a reader’s reach. This distance feels justified in the opening chapters, when despite the vivid awfulness of the abduction, the details are confused ... In the second part of the novel, things are only apparently more immediate ... an example of something Ybarra is very good at: describing a failure to adequately face the reality of death, which sometimes happens when a young adult loses a parent ... reflections, however, are afforded little space in The Dinner Guest; mostly the book proceeds in a neutrally reporting register: the structure may be fragmentary, but the writing is deliberately flat and muted, tending to the present tense and a simple past, quite untroubled by lyricism, irony, or despair ... There are places in The Dinner Guest where Ybarra seems to aspire to a more self-conscious literary project ... What are we to make, though, of Ybarra’s (or is it only her character’s?) retelling of the death of Robert Walser, whose 1917 novella The Walk she has been reading, and her decision to reprint a famous photograph of his corpse lying in the snow? It seems like simple overreach: a book that has kept its own two narratives at such curious distance now invoking a work, and an image, that will supply some missing insight or profundity. The more generous reading is that the awkwardness belongs not to Ybarra, but to a character she knows, and wants us to know, is not telling us all she could or should have.
Ybarra favors deep emotion over clear explanations and provides only passing references to her family’s wealth and the political components of the kidnapping. This novel’s honest rawness of coming to terms with premature death will resonate with readers.