So, I'm a heretic. While I found J. Ryan Stradal's debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, fascinating, I didn't love it as passionately as some of my librarian friends. It's a bittersweet, offbeat story that introduces a cast of awkward characters. The intriguing novel conveys a shared passion for good food and good wine, a passion that leads the reader on a circular journey.
It is a story of family in the Midwest, beginning with Lars Thorvald, a man who grew up working in the family bakery while making lutefisk for the Scandinavian Lutherans of Duluth, Minnesota. He hated lutefisk, and escaped to the Twin Cities, taking jobs in various restaurants to learn about food. It was a love of food, starting with tomatoes, that he shared with his baby daughter, Eva. Fatherhood was his greatest joy, followed by food. And, throughout Eva's troubled teen years, she always had an appreciation, like her father, for food.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is Eva's story, however, it's seldom told from her viewpoint. Except for the story of her teen years, when she was bullied until she instituted a horrific form of revenge, the reader sees Eva through the eyes of those who encounter her while her passion for food continues to grow until she is recognized worldwide for her skills.
Stradal takes the readers through twenty-five years in a leisurely paced episodic novel. Using food as the connecting element, he tells a story of family, and finding the people to support us in life, whether it's actual family, or the family we need at various stages. There's dark humor, recipes, flawed characters.
J. Ryan Stradal's Kitchens of the Great Midwest is fresh, original, a little pensive. The author connects the story beautifully, bringing it full circle. My recommendation? Taste is for yourself. Get back to me with your opinion.
J. Ryan Stradal's website is www.jryanstradal.com
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Viking. 2015. ISBN 9780525429142 (hardcover), 310p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I picked up an advanced reading copy at BEA.