Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens.jpg Reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest (July, 2015), by J. Ryan Stradal, is as delightful an experience as savoring a dish of Homer’s ice cream. It satisfies one’s desire for a character-centered novel that is at once a Bildungsroman as well as a work of comedy and satire.

In an interview at the 2015 BEA convention, Stradal spoke of his upbringing in Hastings, Minnesota in the 70s and 80s. It was a time when “eating for convenience and speed were the norms, and a salad (need not) contain green vegetables.” (YouTube, June 9, 2015)

The book’s main character, Eva Thorvald, is a child prodigy with an amazing sense of taste. Her sophisticated appetite and interest in organic gardening make her an oddity in West Des Moines, Iowa. Her mother can neither afford nor understand Eva’s desire to serve vegan blueberry sorbet at her fourth-grade birthday party.

As the plot evolves, we meet other wonderful and funny characters. Her cousin, Braque Dragelski, is one of them. Braque is a Northwestern University athlete who is a food purist. She shops only at Whole Foods and her clean palate is matched only by her filthy mouth.

When eleven year old Eva runs away from home, Braque becomes the child’s protector. The two join forces to go on a hot food odyssey around the Chicago area, earning money by collecting bets on Eva’s tolerance for the spiciest dishes. Of course, they make out like bandits. This is just one of many episodes in the book that has the reader rolling with laughter. But the book is more than laughs and satiric pokes at today’s foodie culture. Eva’s life, as well as that of other characters, is no cake-walk. Over a span of 30 years, bad things happen to good people and their struggles are much like our own.

If you are a food lover or cook or simply enjoy a story well-told, you won’t want to miss this charming debut novel. Kitchens of the Midwest will merely whet your appetite for more books penned by this author.

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Sara Lifson September 18, 2015 

 
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