Kitchens of the Great Midwest

I really enjoyed Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel.
It is the story of Eva Thorvald, owner of an unusually fine palate, an extremely high tolerance for the burningest of chilli peppers, who is also a spectacular cook, told over about 40 years.
Each chapter is told from the point of view of a person in Eva’s life, sometimes a central character, sometimes a person so peripheral that they might have only met once. You get glimpses of other people’s lives and the way that a person can affect others, sometimes catastrophically, without ever realising. I really liked this multiple-viewpoints aspect of the book, but I have a colleague who really didn’t like this, felt it didn’t flow well. I think one of the things I like is that this is sort of how we know most people in real life, we don’t know everything about them, only the moments we interact with them, which can be banal or profound; also I quite like novels with several viewpoints, especially when a couple of them may be challengingly dislikeable or unsympathetic.
This reminded me of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and I really enjoyed Eva, who is tough and vulnerable in equal measure, and is often mysterious, like a ship in the distance on someone else’s story.
Funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and nicely written.


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