If director Wes Anderson and food writer M.F.K. Fisher joined forces to produce a novel, it would probably look something like the quirky Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Set in various towns across the Midwest, the novel follows the life of Eva Thorvald, an orphan who becomes one of the top chefs in the country. A worthwhile protagonist, Eva is fresh, sweet and bubbly without being cloying and also possesses an amazing natural palate and enviable culinary prowess. Readers spend the majority of the uniquely structured novel learning about Eva from the people who pass through her life, including a proud Scandinavian father, a jilted high school boyfriend and a jealous competitor.
This novel is fun for Midwesterners—especially Minnesotans—who will not only recognize geographical names and regional customs but also see semblances of people they know through Stradal’s wildly fun caricatures. There’s Pat Prager, a devout Lutheran whose legendary bars won the County Fair Bake-Off in Deer Lake six years in a row, and Lars Thorvald, a lovably stoic and passive Lutefisk proprietor in Northern Minnesota. Each character takes a turn narrating a chapter, showing the passage of Eva’s life through windows of various sizes. Some characters are linked more intricately while others merely rub elbows with her for brief moments along her journey through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and even South Dakota.
Despite the novel’s decidedly Midwestern setting, its tales prove universal as the book gains traction around the world, with plans for publication in seven countries so far and a deserving spot on many top reading lists for 2015. Join in the fun this summer by indulging in Stradal’s charming and entertaining yet down-to-earth homage to both the Midwest and the larger culinary world.