I don’t want to shock you, but I am not a professional book reviewer. It’s hard to tell because of all the profanity and sloppy grammar. I am not sought out by respected book-centered publications to share my book-centered insights. I KNOW RIGHT? Fuckers. In truth, it’s a very good thing, because I am the last person on the planet who should review any newly published book. I have a bit of a problem, shall we say, being succinct. When I’m excited about a book, I don’t want to deliver a high-level, erudite overview. I accelerate to Mach 10 Fangirl and no detail is too unimportant for me to exhaustively examine. It’s not that I’m trying to ruin your personal reading reveals, it’s that I have no filter combined with the blind exuberance of a Labrador. Usually, by the time I’m done, you don’t need to read the book. Like Twitter during a new episode of The Walking Dead, I am gonna spoil everything.
Me: the dish ran away with the spoon
World: wth you told me the ending?
Me: SO COOL RIGHT
The book I want badly to spoil for you today but I won’t because DISCIPLINE is Kitchens Of The Great Midwest (Viking / Pamela Dorman Books) by J. Ryan Stradal. This book is California-based Stradal’s first novel, and it’s really good, so in all likelihood it will not be his last. In about five years I am going to have to revise this post to include mentions of his two or three equally successful follow-up novels. Frankly, that’s irksome because in five years I planned to be in London on location shooting my Christmas special with guest stars Imagine Dragons and Hannah Hart but whatever. Way to jack my production schedule, J. Ryan Stradal. At any rate, Kitchens of the Great Midwest perfectly juggles a large cast of wonderfully realized characters who enter, exit, and overlap in ever-expanding and ever-shrinking concentric circles centered around Minnesota’s contemporary food culture. I loved reading it and I can’t hold back—MUST MAKE TALK ABOUT KITCHEN BOOK. I’m like Michael Myers. You can shoot me, blow me up, and set me on fire, but I keep showing back up to discuss symbolism and exposition and story structure. I’m an invincible monster not from this world. Fortunately, I am also an inventive genius, because I have hit on a way to go DEFCON 1 with enthusiasm without spoiling. (*bows, graciously accepts MacArthur Grant*)
Me: I’d like to apply for a patent
Patent office: what did you invent
Me: a way to not spoil a book
Patent office: shutting up is not an invention
Plot, point of view, and character development? Spoiler quicksand. But sentences—nice, juicy, standalone sentences-deliver the flavor and feeling of a book without giving away anything. A perfectly structured sentence gives me a case of the vapors. Those sentences that just scream “LOOK AT ME! I’M SO DAMN QUOTABLE!” Yes, you are quotable, you precious little nugget. Come here so I can watercolor you onto some stiff paper. Kitchens of the Great Midwest has lots of perfect sentences. I e-read it and I highlighted (highlit? Highlightered.) so many passages it looks like I had a lipstick fight with my Kindle. I’m sharing three of my non-spoiler favorites. Sentences are the burlesque dancers of my book review strip show—provocative while revealing nothing.
(1)Lars had also grown to become a little wizard in the kitchen, and by his unintentionally mastering the tragic hobby of lutefisk preparation, its potency was skyrocketing.
There should be a word for “being pissed about getting really good at something you never wanted to do in the first place, like making lutefisk”. Actually there probably is a word in German for that, but until we derive one in English, I nominate the phrase “tragic hobby” because it captures that feeling so aptly. I will go even further and suggest that any time I use “tragic hobby”, it should be accompanied by a sad trombone riff. Also, until reading this book, I was ignorant of how lutefisk is prepared. It was a cool thing to learn and I don’t ever want to eat it ever thanks.
Musician: I’m here for the tragic hobby auditions
Me: what are you playing today
Musician: “Walking On Sunshine”
Me: did you even read the job description
(2)They were generous in the way of people running a garage sale who give things away to the folks who come at the end.
Ah, convenient generosity. I love this line in no small part because I PERSONALLY HAVE DONE THIS. I didn’t give the stuff away because I wanted to be generous though. I was too lazy to want to move all my crap back inside. So change “generous” to “lazy” and you have summed up my character and now I am in a shame spiral.
Book: way to make that all about you
Me: I’m using contrast to highlighter the sentence genius
Book: you manufactured a shame spiral so you could drink wine
Me: (takes long sip, nods thoughtfully)
(3)In the Fellowship Hall, a skinny woman in an impertinent white summer dress—no sleeves, low neck, and a cut above the knee-threw an ivory cotton tablecloth over a folding table.
Is there ever a way to win when you’re meeting a new group for the first time? It doesn’t matter how hard you try. You thought you dressed appropriately, but it turns out you’re getting brazen hussy all over the tablecloths. It is really hard to get brazen hussy out of polyester. You have to use holy water and baking soda.
Musician: do the sad noise now?
Me: yes that would—dude is that an accordion
Musician: yes. for extra sadness
Me: you are so hired
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an absorbing, charming read. It’s satisfying not just for its perfect sentences, but for elements like the main character that—um, no. Okay so there’s this big dinner party that happens because….ok. Not that either. There is a hilarious skewering of hipster food culture in a…CRAP. NOPE TIME TO STAB ME AND LEAVE ME IN A CLOSET. By all means: assume I’m dead. That worked out for Jamie Lee Curtis.
Skip the lutefisk at Thanksgiving