EDIBLE STORIES by Mark Kurlansky

Book Quote:

“Most people remember where they lost their virginity but few remember as much about the spot as Robo. He remembered, for example, that it was a twelve percent downhill grade toward the southwest and that the soil under Vivi was ten percent sand with a gravel subsoil and a strong limestone content held together by coarse silt.” — from Orangina

Book Review:

Review by Maggie Hill  (DEC 8, 2010)

Most readers would consider this a book of short stories. But the title sports a subhead that reads, “A Novel in Sixteen Parts.” So, for the sake of the book’s integrity, we’ll call it a novel. (It’s a book of short stories, though.)

The 16 stories gathered together here in Edible Stories are organized around some form of food and/or eating theme, but it’s never heavy-handed or in-your-face. Kurlansky uses food as a way into the story, not as the thing he wants to explore. Food creates a kind of bond around which the characters interact; it’s natural and normal – until it’s crazy.

In “Crème Brulee,” the main character has a kamikaze fear of said dessert. To describe it would diminish it, so just chew on the idea of a woman who fears that the glazing on the top of this delicious dessert is actually a toxin created to poison her. Kurlansky takes Emma, the petrified eater, through a love affair and subsequent marriage built on serious food neurosis. It’s hilarious.

“Osetra” is about a thief who steals caviar right from under the delicacy counter of various high-end food emporiums. The twist here is that a trio of New York Puerto Rican thieves play a bait-and-switch scam in delis – two distract, one steals – until one of them discovers caviar. Once he does, he’s hooked: “Often, later in his life, Wonderbread would recall as formative that instant when he first tasted osetra caviar. That was back when he brought caviar to the barrio.” Wonderbread, in case you are wondering, is the main character. He’s a lovable looter who ends up slurping his osetras right out of the jar before he even gets out of the store – or caught by security.

Kurlansky’s a good writer; each story has a clear line of sight, the scenes have excellent timing, and the overall effect is cheering. Kind of like having a good meal – you can savor and enjoy, go at your own pace, and possibly share it with someone else.

I was reading “Hot Dog,” a story about a first date in Yankee Stadium, and shared some of it with my son, who was home from Boston for the weekend. The Yanks were playing the Red Sox (in the story), and I thought he’d get a kick out of it. He did, until I read: “This was going to be a pitcher’s duel – Martino Miranda for the Yankees and Blanky Barnes for the Sox.” Turns out, Kurlansky gave the pitchers fictitious names. Who knew? The names have a musical believability that I would have bought if my son hadn’t scrunched up his face and said something like, “Pftshtik!” But the names — Martino Miranda and Blanky Barnes — sound exactly right, don’t they?

Now, I’m not trusting Kurlansky in this story, so when I come across “vomitoria” it sounds a little sketchy. I called a friend of mine whose brother was involved with the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. (Hey, reviewers work hard.) Yankee vomitoria is the same as any stadium vomitoria – it’s the passageway that seems to go under the stadium seats, enabling throngs of people to leave at one time. It’s used correctly in the story. Though, of course, now I have to look up the mythical idea of the Roman vomitoria…..

It’s not necessary to do any work at all reading Edible Stories. If you want to figure out how it’s a novel, then you can certainly find the characters that show up again in several stories, or locate the running themes embedded in the narrative. Or you can just sit down and be served.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Riverhead Trade (November 2, 2010)
REVIEWER: Maggie Hill
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Mark Kurlansky
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More linked stories:



December 8, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Short Stories, US Northwest

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