I have a confession to make.
I made my first judgement of Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal long before the galley was shipped. I had an early copy with no cover art, just a title. I pegged it as a light read.
Then when I received the Advance Uncorrected Proof, with a cover very similar to the final, my judgement was reinforced. Yes, this was a fun feel-good book, not serious at all. I was smiling by page 2 (“Theirs was a mixed-race marriage–between a Norwegian and a Dane–…”) and set it aside before I finished the end of the first chapter. It wasn’t coming out until July 28, after all, and I had plenty of time to read it.
I did have time and picked it up again a few weeks ago. The first chapter was as I remembered. A chef raising his baby daughter without the assistance of the absent mother, influencing her palate through his own passion for food. This time I made it through the first chapter and was forced to sit up and take notice. Maybe this wasn’t as light as I thought.
You’ll notice that I have yet to mention a character by name. To provide plot points or a character breakdown would be exhaustive, because each chapter provides a snapshot of the people, places and things (and foods) that influence of a life. And as characters move in and out of frame, Stradal challenges the definition of family.
I was right about the feel-good nature of this book. This might start out as one of those “trust me” handsells. Reading it has left an impact and I can’t stop talking about it to any captive audience I can find. And while it will expose my schadenfreude, I’ll admit that one of the things that won me over was the inclusion life’s inevitable sadness and lack of loose ends tied into neat bows.
To wrap up this confession, J. Ryan Stradal, I’m sorry I pre-judged your novel. But I’m especially sorry that I didn’t read it earlier.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman Books | 9780525429142 | July 28, 2015)