Thursday, April 28, 2016

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
(Penguin Audio, 2015) 
Read by Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg

This title is a nominee in the 2016 Audie Awards: Fiction Category

From Goodreads: "When Lars Thorvald's wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine--and a dashing sommelier--he's left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He's determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter--starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva's journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that's a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal's startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity."

Is this for me? I wondered, even as I saw several bookish friends express delight over Stradal’s debut. I’m not much of a foodie, and the structure sounded like it might be forced. Well, my hesitation was ill founded: this novel is for me, and I’d happily recommend it to everyone. The structure worked smoothly – it was loose enough to let the narrative breathe, and each section has it’s own (excuse the pun) flavor.

Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg, both new-to-me narrators, paired smoothly for this book. I especially enjoyed the undertone of wry humor in Stuhlbarg’s voice. Ryan managed the subtleties of several regional accents well, giving each voice a strong personality.

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