Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review: Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts

The book is written by Mark Kurlansky who holds a lot of writing credits and awards and stuff.  There are sixteen short stories with interconnecting characters having titles of dishes from Bean Curd to Red Sea Salt.  Only one story/chapter is named after something that may not be food -- Margaret.  The stories all stand on their own but are arranged in chronological order with the dish at the beginning, Red Sea Salt, making an appearance at the end.

Some of the pieces are more like short portraits or vignettes reading Carveresque.  I was always trying to find the emotional element and how it connected to the food.  Food is used the way colour is used for great movies -- "The Wizard of Oz" or "Pleasantville".  I didn't always understand the complex unexplained emotions of the characters until the relationship of the food was discovered.  The way a hot dog doomed a relationship, or the forbidden thrill of a muffin schemed for and enjoyed alone, or the joy in stolen caviar.  

Just the way some dishes evoke a memory and feeling in real life, these foods now convey a literary reference that has made its way into my emotional memory.  Some of these little bites now occupy a space like the comfort of oatmeal or the pleasure of butter tarts.  This is all due to the skill of the writer to allow spaces between the characters and the food item that you have to fill with your interpretations making them real.  A good dish eaten is not soon forgotten.

Aside from the pure foodiness of the book, I would recommend this to anyone who likes short stories.   Novel readers may not like the disjointedness and the effort required to mantain the connections between the characters and the loose growth between stories.  It is well written and evocative prose that will come back to me even as I sip my espresso...Viva la revolucion... after this cup and maybe one more. (Read the story...)

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