Kitchens of the Great Midwest Summary and Reviews

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal X
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
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  • Published in USA  Jul 2015
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

When Lars Thorvald's wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine - and a dashing sommelier - he's left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He's determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva's journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that's a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal's startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

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Book Awards

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." - Library Journal

"Certain bits of information occasionally feel deliberately withheld for dramatic effect (though they are eventually revealed), and Eva's superstar status at the end of the story feels like a little bit of a stretch, but Eva herself is a compelling, deliciously flawed character." - Publishers Weekly

"[A] delicious debut from Stradal... Food and family intertwine in this promising debut that features triumph, heartbreak, and even recipes." - Kirkus

"[A] structural and empathetic tour de force, stepping across worlds in the American midwest, and demonstrating with an enviable tenderness and ingenuity the tug of war between our freedom to pursue our passions and our obligations to those we love." - Jim Shepard, author of Project X and National Book Award finalist Like You'd Understand, Anyway

"Tender, funny, and moving, J. Ryan Stradal's debut novel made me crave my mother's magic cookie bars...and every good tomato I've ever had the privilege of eating. Kitchens of the Great Midwest manages to be at once sincere yet sharply observed, thoughtful yet swiftly paced, and the lives of its fallible, realistic, and complicated characters mattered to me deeply. It's a fantastic book." - Edan Lepucki, bestselling author of California

"In Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a charming, fast-moving round robin tale of food, sensuality and Midwestern culture, Mr. Stradal has delivered one extremely tasty, well-seasoned debut in what is sure to be a long and savory career." - Janet Fitch, author White Oleander

"From the quite literally burning passions of a lonely eleven-year-old girl with an exceptional palate, to the ethical dilemmas behind a batch of Blue Ribbon Peanut Butter Bars, J. Ryan Stradal writes with a special kind of meticulous tenderness—missing nothing and accepting everything. A superbly gratifying debut." - Meg Howrey, author of The Crane's Dance

"An impossible-to-put-down, one-of-a-kind novel. The prose is beautiful, the characters memorable, and the plot is surprising at every turn. I have never read a book quite like this—and neither, I'll bet, have you." - Rob Roberge, author of The Cost of Living

"A Great American Novel in the fullest sense of the term. Everything you want a book to be."- Ben Loory, author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

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Reader Reviews

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Diane S.

Kitchens of the great midwest
On the surface, and of course from the title it seems like this would be a book about food. It is but also much, much more. We first get to know Eva as a baby and from there each chapter is narrated by a different character and highlights a different food. Almost more like connected narratives, than one continuing story. We learn about Eva, and her wonderful palate as well as her cooking talent from others, connected to her either loosely or personally. Found this to be a novel concept and construct.

This is a novel about friends, family and acquaintances, about loyalty and trying new things and ideas. I loved how this all came together, hearing about bits and pieces of Eva's life. I did not feel close to this character, but I did feel I knew her, what she stood for and whom she valued. The ending I thought tied everything and everybody together. Also liked that it was left somewhat open, not a typical cliched ending. Kept, I thought with the spirit of the book.

Well written, first novel about the ties that bind, the things that matter and the importance of the people who enter our lives, however fleetingly. Looking forward to seeing what this author tackles next.

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Author Information

J. Ryan Stradal

J. Ryan Stradal edits the fiction section of The Nervous Breakdown. His writing has appeared in The Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and McSweeney's: The Goods, among other places. Born and raised in Minnesota, he now lives in Los Angeles and has worked as a TV producer, notably for the History Channel's Ice Road Truckers and Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch.

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