KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal revolves around Eva Louise Thorvald, the only child from the brief marriage of a chef and a sommelier. The reader meets Eva as an infant, follows up with her as a preteen, catches a glimpse of her during her teen years, and then finishes their relationship with her as Eva settles into her 20s. Stradal tells Eva’s story in a manner reminiscent of a short story collection, and with each chapter she is viewed largely through the eyes of people whose lives she touches as she navigates the world. As one would expect from a character with a “once-in-a-generation palate,” Eva’s interactions with others are largely food-focused, and the author happily includes a few recipes for those inclined to try out the food that sounds so delicious on the page.
KITCHENS is a beautifully written bit of fiction that manages to make the reader pause and think about the meaning of family, the importance of community and friends, and the role food plays in our lives. It somehow does all of that without being overbearing and stuffy. For a time I wanted the entire book to be completely from Eva’s perspective, but I think something would have been lost if the author had gone that route. Twenty-something-Eva is a mysterious and elusive character, and the author’s method added to that. As I finished KITCHENS, I was left wanting more of Eva and her food–much like the characters in the book.