Over dinner, a man tells his son-in-law the story of how he became a convicted drug trafficker in Ramsey’s debut novel.
The unnamed narrator is perplexed as to why he would be invited to dine with the father of his soon-to-be ex-wife; he hasn’t dined alone with him in nearly two years. After some preliminaries, author Ramsey gets to the heart of the matter—Emilio’s book-length recounting of what happened after he accepted an offer to fly planes for a drug cartel, which he calls “the worst decision of my life.” In what’s essentially a long monologue—interrupted at times by the waiter—Emilio chronicles the mechanics of drug trafficking, close calls with the Drug Enforcement Administration, notoriety after being profiled on the reality TV series America’s Most Wanted, going on the lam, and ultimately, his arrest. (The general format of the novel has similarities to that of the 1981 film My Dinner with Andre, which apparently inspired the title, although the stories’ details vary considerably.) The latter part of the book, which deals with Emilio’s incarceration, is the most effective section. But ultimately, the novel never satisfactorily answers the baffled narrator’s own question to himself: “Why tonight and why now?” He was married to Emilio’s daughter for 17 years, but in all that time, he notes, Emilio “rarely spoke openly about those [prison] years, especially never to me.” The book has no chapter breaks, which can make it a bit of a slog to read at times. Emilio’s story is laid out mostly as a series of summarized incidents, rather than as effectively dramatized scenes. That said, Ramsey based Emilio’s story on interviews with real-life, small-time drug traffickers and DEA agents, which gives it a redeeming element of authenticity, particularly in the harrowing sections that deal with the brutality of life in a maximum-security prison. Still, some readers may find it hard to feel much sympathy for an admitted drug trafficker.
A tale that offers an insider’s view of the drug trade but lacks narrative momentum.