• Well Red

Food Glorious Food

Title: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Author: J. Ryan Stradal

Edition reviewed: 2015

Publisher: Quercus Publishing Ltd

Rating: ***.5

Genre: Fiction

Setting: America

Difficulty: Easy

Series: No – standalone

Always spoiler free.

I bought this book as part of a deal at a shop – 2 for £4 – and picked it because of the cover (pretty) and food (yummy). I don’t usually read fiction that is routed in reality, it doesn’t interest me as much as fantasy or sci-fi. It’s too realistic, adult, mature.

Eva is culinary prodigy. This is the story of her life, mapped out by her growth as a chef and the impact her food has on the people around her.

I finished this book and disliked it immediately. I then thought about it and decided I didn’t hate it but certainly didn’t like it. The story is supposed to be about Eva, but in reality it’s about the people around her. She gets about one story (chillies) that’s from her point of view and the stories slowly drift further and further away from her, until in some she features only in a couple of lines. It ties the character’s you’ve been introduced to through the book neatly in a bow at the end, which is positive because at times it feels like a random collection of people that have drifted through Eva’s life (or rather, people who Eva’s drifted past, some sticking, some not), but for me it left a hole. Who is Eva? At the end that was still left a mystery to me.

It’s written third person but at times that felt incredibly distant. The simplistic wording makes it feel as if you are feeling people’s emotions through glass – distant and slightly obscure. This was clearly deliberate – you’re seeing Eva through the food she makes/the impact her presence has on other people, but it makes everything so distant, so it’s hard to connect to some of the characters. Usually I would say this is a clever tactic: your impression of Eva is built up by her impact on others, but some of the largest milestones in her life are brushed over because they are not milestones for the current person narrating the story. There’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-them lines that indicate Eva’s next steps as a chef. It just makes it very hard to connect to Eva, she’s like a phantom you’re trying to grasp hold of, to understand, but never in one place long enough.

This story is also about the food. Dishes, or specific ingredients, are showcased throughout the book. I liked this element of the story, but maybe because the dishes were regional to America/Scandinavia I didn’t have a personal connection to the food as a different reader might have. Still, it didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate the connection of the food to a character, or to Eva. The food is showcased beautifully throughout the book. I don’t know if the author is actually passionate for food, but the character’s passion shines brightly through the book. The fact that certain dishes are linked to moments in Eva’s past is also a very clever motif throughout the book.

There are beautiful moments in the book. The ending which when I first read, I hated because it didn’t conclude a single thing, matches the pacing of the book and brings together stories, characters and food in a joyful manner. I loved the chili jam moment, for unknown reasons. Maybe I just needed to mature myself to feel more of a kinship to the book.

I know why I didn’t love this book, and it’s everything to do with the usual type of fiction I read and prefer. To that end, I would recommend this book, especially to people who enjoy fiction/slice of life fiction. It is a joyful book.

Well Red Reviews

Would I recommend this series? Yes

Favourite quote(s): n/a

“When Lars first held her, his heart melted over her like butter on warm bread, and he would never get it back.”

“Braque sat in a Pepto-Bismal pink toilet stall in the otherwise empty women’s bathroom and opened the jar of green sweet pepper jelly…She plunged her finger in and drew a handful of warm green goop to her mouth.”

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