Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal


I know this world, I know these people, I could be related to some of them. I love books about places that seem real, and this was incredible in that regard. I can get very picky about how the Midwest, and the Twin Cities in particular, are represented, and this rang true for me.

It’s a sprawling story, taking place over thirty years, including a ton of different characters. Every chapter has a different point of view character, and picks up in a different place. The structure reminds me of A Visit From The Goon Squad, but less experimental. (Everything happens in order in this book, no power points.) All of the point of view characters are very distinct, and you really get a feel for them. It’s interesting to see how different narrators view recurring characters differently.

The big thing that keeps on coming back is food, and comfort food in particular. Reading this book made me hungry, and inspired me to eat better and cook more than I had been. A really fascinating thing to look at would be how the different characters relate to food, and what that says about them. Stradal is saying something about how being able to enjoy food corespends with being able to enjoy life. Food is about pleasure, and nourishment, and family. What we eat, and how we eat, is central to who we are.
It was a really captivating novel that drew me in. I loved the familiarity of the world, the fullness of the characters, and the way everything looped around and tied together. Very satisfying read.


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