Rebecca's Reviews > Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
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really liked it
bookshelves: foodie-lit, read-via-netgalley, best-of-2015, linked-short-stories, reviewed-for-nudge

(Nearly 4.5) One of my favorite debuts of 2015. From my Bookmarks review: Stradal has revealed that his grandmother’s Lutheran church cookbook was the inspiration for this culinary-themed novel that takes place over the course of 30 years. His unique structure takes what are essentially short stories from different perspectives and time periods and links them loosely through Eva Thorvald, an intriguing character who remains hard to pin down. Eva’s pop-up supper club gains fame thanks to her innovative adaptations of traditional Midwestern foods like venison or Scandinavian lutefisk; it charges $5,000 a head. Yet this is “not only Eva’s story but also a gastronomic portrait of a region” (New York Times Book Review).

For me the best chapter was “Bars,” but it’s not the only one in which Stradal cleverly denies the fairytale ending readers might be expecting. I, at least, thought traditional home cook Pat Prager should trounce all those hipsters and their vegan/gluten-free/celiac/raw baked goods at the bake-off and go on to culinary stardom. What actually happens is rather different, though the time lapse between chapters means you get to fill in some of the intervening plot for yourself. I loved almost all of Stradal’s ordinary, flawed characters. If you want a peek at how average Americans live (apart from the $5,000 meals), you’ll find it here.

(Quick marketing question that I ask out of curiosity: how do you think the decision was made to pass this off as a novel, but Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno as “Stories”? Although Eva appears in some way in each of the chapters here, it can sometimes be like a game of Where’s Waldo/Wally – how will she turn up now? By contrast, Marra’s stories are more closely linked. Perhaps the difference is simply that his chapters are not chronological?)
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Reading Progress

February 13, 2015 – Shelved
February 13, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
October 11, 2015 – Started Reading
October 11, 2015 – Shelved as: foodie-lit
October 11, 2015 – Shelved as: read-via-netgalley
October 31, 2015 – Finished Reading
December 31, 2015 – Shelved as: best-of-2015
January 9, 2018 – Shelved as: linked-short-stories
February 28, 2019 – Shelved as: reviewed-for-nudge

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