Kitchens of the Great Midwest

J. Ryan Stradal. Viking/Pam Dorman, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-42914-2
Stradal’s debut novel centers on Eva Thorvald, the daughter of a chef and an aspiring sommelier, who has food in her DNA—a fact that remains irrefutable even after her mother abandons her and her father dies when she is an infant. Raised by relatives in Wisconsin and Iowa, Eva grows into a tall, awkward girl obsessed with restaurant kitchens, chili peppers, and local cuisine, which she folds into extremely popular and sought-after fine-dining experiences. Eva’s story unfolds more like a short story collection than a novel as each vignette, told from the point of view of a different character, reveals another facet of her personality. The unifying (though slightly trite) conceit is that each character introduces an ingredient that lands on Eva’s tasting menu in the final act. Stradal’s neither a food snob nor exclusively a comfort-food advocate: he lovingly skewers Lutheran church-basement cuisine and locavore foodies alike as he tracks Eva’s path to success. Certain bits of information occasionally feel deliberately withheld for dramatic effect (though they are eventually revealed), and Eva’s superstar status at the end of the story feels like a little bit of a stretch, but Eva herself is a compelling, deliciously flawed character. Agent: Ryan Harbage, Fischer-Harbage Agency. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/25/2015
Release date: 07/28/2015
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-61176-435-2
Library Binding - 500 pages - 978-1-62899-675-3
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-14-310941-9
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-85705-409-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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