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Book Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J Ryan Stradal
Print Length: 312 pages
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
Rating: 4/5 stars

I love books that have multiple narrators whose stories combine in the end to create one rich, multidimensional story that leaves me completely satisfied as a reader.

While sometimes this type of narrative doesn’t always keep my attention (I want to know more about the main character usually and I get tired of jumping around between characters), when done well I find that my favorite books are structured this way. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a prime example of one person whose life is shaped through the various stories of others. The novel centers on Eva Thorvald, who as a young child has a culinary palate mature beyond her years, and becomes the master mind of a pop up dinner club where reservations are $5000 a plate and the waiting list for a spot at the table is two years long. Kitchens is the story of Eva’s life from infancy through her early thirties told in a series of stories, each from a different character – but whom are all related in some way or another.

The first chapter introduces us to Lars Thorvald – a mild mannered and devoted father with a passion for food that he’s anxious to share with his infant daughter, Eva. I enjoyed his segment and was amused by the menu he created for his baby girl - I mean, pureed braised pork shoulder for a three month old? I wanted to pat him on the shoulder and let him know that he was jumping the gun a little bit but it would be ok in the end.

As the story continues we see Eva mature from the perspectives of her cousin, an ex-boyfriend, a jealous rival, a friend’s brother, and Midwestern housewife and finally from the mother who abandoned her as a baby. Each chapter brought something new to the table giving insight to an array of characters who navigate their own trials while Eva floats in the background. At times I wondered how all of the characters would relate to each other and was quite happy with the ending of this book and how all of the loose ends were gathered to pull the individual stories together.

Overall I rated this book four out of five stars for its creative narrative, plucky characters and quality of prose.

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