Describing The Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal is not easy. On one hand, it is a book about a girl, Eva, whose destiny was fixed from the moment she was born. On the other hand it’s a mix of short stories with threads that pull you along, some to be broken later and others that wind around and reappear in other chapters. You might also consider it a foodie book with an overarching culinary theme since each chapter, aka story, is named after a food which becomes, in a way, yet another character.
From early childhood, Eva realizes she has an unusual and valuable talent passed down from her father, a very advanced and sophisticated culinary palate, and she is sure she is destined to become a well reknowned chef. Eva’s road to culinary success is paved with unhappy relationships and some surprising successes. In some chapters, secondary characters take center stage and Eva doesn’t even appear. But all the characters are part of the supporting ingredients that turn this into a very original book.
Readers should enjoy this book whether they are looking for humor, sorrow, realistic and complex characters, a quirky story line, recipes or a foodie culture. Besides writing a book which has become a publishing success this year, Stradal offers not just clear enjoyable prose and a surprising and erratic story line but, when describing culinary dishes, authentic, evocative writing that holds a candle to some of my favorite food writers including Ruth Reichl, Amanda Hesser, Gael Greene and Molly Wizenberg.
Do yourself a favor and enjoy this trip to the Midwest, specifically Minnesota, and envelop yourself in the characters’ lives, insecurities, favorite dishes and family relationships. This unconventional debut novel is sure to win fans for the author. And, there are enough loose ends left hanging that perhaps a sequel is in the making?