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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Lars is a chef. Cynthia is a waitress and wine connoisseur. They meet, they fall in love, they get pregnant, and they get married. But Cynthia doesn't want to be a mom. In fact, she thinks she'll be the worst kind of mom. And in Cynthia's opinion, having no mom is better than having a bad mom. So she leaves her little family behind, abandoning Lars and their newborn daughter, Eva. 

Lars is determined that Eva will have all the love he can give her. He'll introduce her to great food, he'll teach her everything he knows, and he won't let anyone tell her the real reason her mother left. Nope. He'll let the blame for that rest solely on his own shoulders. But Lars's plan hits a big road bump early on and Eva's life turns out quite differently than he could have imagined. 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest was NOTHING like I expected it to be. First, the premise is really just the first few chapters of the book. Second, the book reads like a series of connected vignettes with the connections being Eva and food. While I think I might have enjoyed more of a straightforward narrative from Eva's perspective, Stradal's choice here is one that also works very well and is quite enjoyable. In fact, one of the things I quite liked most about the book was the way the author very carefully establishes each character's voice. With so many different narrators that can be understandably difficult to pull off but J. Ryan Stradal does it quite easily.

We meet Lars in his early lutefisk days, follow him through his falling in love with Cynthia, Eva's birth, and his heartbreaking abandonment. Then we meet Eva as a sixth grader. Her cousin Braque, a high school boyfriend, said boyfriend's stepmother, a later boyfriend's brother... these and more are the characters we meet throughout Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

J. Ryan Stradal's debut is one of love, remorse, death, the Midwest, and food. Food, food, food, and lots more food. And while you certainly don't have to be a foodie to enjoy this book, it should be clear that from the lutefisk to Eva's grand finale dinner, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a true foodie read with heart. (And yes, there are even a few recipes.)

Readers, this is a book that shows immense talent (I feel like I've been reading a lot of those kinds of debuts lately - always a GREAT thing for a book junkie) so I am quite happy to note that the author has sold a second novel. I have no idea what it'll be about (he notes it's set in the Midwest) but given how much I enjoyed Kitchens, it will most definitely be in my reading plans.

Rating: 4/5

1 comment:

Diane Coto said...

Aw ... I felt so sad when I read that she leaves Lars and their newborn daughter, Eva, because she doesn't think she'd make a good mom.
@dino0726 from 
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