Hello Radio Readers! Now that we’ve explored the food described by Federal Writers’ Project authors in The Food of a Younger Land, and mulled over Joanne Harris’s novel of food, family, and a community caught up in the complexities of wartime occupation, Five Quarters of the Orange, it’s time to move on to the third book in our Food and Story series, Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts.
Mark Kurlansky, a noted food author with best selling books on salt, cod, and oysters, throws us a real curve with Edible Stories. His mining of the Federal Writers’ Project depression era essays in our series opener, Food of a Younger Land, did not prepare this reader for the wacky, disjointed-but-not-disjointed series of stories he creates in Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts. I found these fictitious short stories (or are they chapters?) both delightful and baffling. Kurlansky presents us with a parade of characters who are odd, to say the least. He organizes this book with a motif of, yes, food, but in a most unexpected way. Each of the sixteen stories bears the title of a specific food: “Muffins,” “Hot Pot,” “Orangina,” “The Icing on the Cake.” The exception is the last story, titled “Margaret.”
Through these post-modern stories, Kurlansky pursues plots that seem only vaguely connected, sometimes even quite pointless. His characters, however, are fresh, amusing, and, well, strange: there is Robert Eggle, who finds himself knee deep in a pothole and has no memory of who he is or of his life before that moment; there are Barrio friends Wonderbread, Casitas, and Freddie Shalom, who consider themselves a gang of shoplifting “professionals.” Their foray into lifting cream cheese and bagels in a “Jew store” on Broadway soon escalates to an addiction for caviar; and there is the delightful Minty Maris, an elderly woman who dines in Luigi’s with her blue stuffed bunny and wearies the proprietor with, yet again, the story of how an angry turkey transformed her into a devout vegan.
Kurlansky threads his stories together with these characters and more who are equally bizarre. They will appear in another seemingly unrelated story, sometimes only in an ancillary role, sometimes in a major one. I am still puzzling over how the plots, loose as they are, connect to make a Novel in Sixteen Parts.
Each story in Edible Stories is certainly an interesting read. I’m looking forward to seeing what you other Radio Readers make of it. This is Dana Waters from Fowler, Kansas, for High Plains Public Radio.