By: J. Ryan Stradal
Published: July 28, 2015
Publisher: Viking/Pamela Dorman Books
J. Ryan Stadal has won the blue ribbon at the state fair with his first novel, KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST. It is easily going to make my list of Favorite Books of 2015. I may be a bit partial since I'm a Midwesterner and much of the story takes place in Minnesota and Iowa. The book is centered on the Thorvald family starting in the 1970's and taking the reader to present day. The other main character in the book is the food. Each of the eight chapters is based on a food, from the lutefisk to the peanut butter bars, its role is just as crucial to the story.
The story centers around Eva Thorvald, but by telling her story, you must hear the story of others in her family and people throughout her life. The way this story is told reminded me of the book OLIVE KITTERIDGE. The chapters, in a way, are like their own short stories, connecting people to Eva's life. As a new chapter begins, we learn a new dish, and pick up later on in Eva's life. Some characters are left behind, others are revisited. Gaps of Eva's life are ignored, but the reader soon realizes it doesn't matter. The story begins with Eva's father, long before she is born and takes us all the way through Eva's life as a successful chef. How she gets to that achievement is amazing and part of the allure to the story. Recipes appear in each chapter and their descriptions will make you want to rush out and get the ingredients.
Eva's story is full of loss, forgiveness, failure, love, luck and eventually, success. Her story is amazing and inspiring. I may have laughed and cringed at the practical joke she played on some bullies in school. I cried along with her father as he wept over his newborn child. I savored the food descriptions, wishing I could have just one bite of Eva's famous succotash.
Stradal has a special talent for linking characters in unique ways and making them reappear in surprising situations. He leaves you wanting more of the story at the end of each chapter and yet, eager to turn the page for the next tantalizing recipe and event in Eva's life. Much like you would linger over your pie and coffee, you will want to linger over the stories in this book, being reminded of your own family occasions where food was the center of attention.
Side note: There are multiple swear words in this book. It feels natural as part of the culture of the situation, but take note if it offends you.
|J Ryan Stradal - source|
Born and raised in Minnesota, J. Ryan Stradal now lives in Los Angeles, where he is an editor at Unnamed Press, fiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown, advisory board member at 826LA, and co-producer & host of the literary/culinary series Hot Dish.
In addition to his first novel, KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST, his work appears in Hobart, The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Joyland, The California Prose Directory, and Midnight Breakfast, among other places. He likes books, wine, sports, root beer, and peas.
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