Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Author: J. Ryan Stradal
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Viking, 2015
Hardcover Edition: 310 pages
Source: Personal copy

This story delivers all the force and fun of a rollercoaster ride. Yes, food plays a starring role in this debut novel, but it is the character Eva Thorvald whose life story glues the reader to the page. We follow her from infancy to adulthood, often seen through the eyes of her Midwestern cohort, a group of disparate family and friends and non-friends who make her life what it becomes.

Yes, there are recipes here and there. Would it be Minnesota without a Wild Rice Casserole or as author Amy Thielen insists Wild Rice Hot Dish. There are bars, lutefisk and walleye. Stradal’s descriptions of lutefisk alone are worth the price of the book. Each chapter boasts a food title, introduces more characters, more hilarity, more heartbreak and more of Eva’s story.

If you are a Midwesterner, or not, you must be willing to engage (set aside your loyalties) in the author’s humorous presentation of some things Midwestern (Minnesotan) and accept the fact that all kinds of people populate the food world, the teen world, well….all worlds. His arrows hit some of the sacred bull-eyes of Midwestern place and people.

You may want to find out more about this author. His Upper Midwestern credentials are solid. I’ll wager he has read more church cookbooks than any of us can count. He knows heirloom brands, all things food, and he can make the food obsessions of our time very clear and very funny. According to Jessica Gelt writing for the Los Angeles Times, he “coproduces the reading series Hot Dish, acquires books for small publisher Unnamed Press, edited the 2014 California Prose Directory (an anthology of California writers) and is on the advisory board at 826LA, Dave Eggers’ nonprofit youth writing program housed in a storefront on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. He’s also the fiction editor at literary website the Nervous Breakdown.”

I’ve read some good books this year. This is hands-down the funniest. Fast and totally engaging, it feels like singing one of those multi-versed old-time songs and you can’t wait to sing the lyrics of the next verse. If you like peanut butter, buy the book for Pat’s Peanut Butter Bars recipe. This creative novel is well-written and fun to read! So dig-in to a read with quite likely a different taste than your usual fiction choices.

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