When I started Ruth Reichl’s Delicious!, I told my husband that I was nervous about reading it. He gave me kind of a funny look, but when I told him that I LOVED Reichl’s memoirs (or most of them) but I wasn’t at all sure how her writing style was going to play in a novel, it made sense to him. Now that I’ve finished, I can safely say that I am more or less pleased with how it turned out–but that I was right to be nervous.
First, the disclaimer: it’s December and crazy and I’m pregnant and scattered and tired, so it took me longer than I wanted it to just to read the book in the first place. On top of that, reading a book in smaller segments like that tends to mess up my ability to sink into the flow of a novel (weirdly, it’s not a big problem with non-fiction), so I can’t comment accurately on that flow. It didn’t feel as smooth to me as I wanted it to, but that’s quite possibly just a function of how I read it; I’m perfectly willing to give Reichl the benefit of the doubt. And now, on to opinions I can be more confident about…
I’ve been told a common first novel mistake is to have too many plot threads, and I will say that there are a LOT of threads woven into this storyline. None of them felt extraneous, particularly, but I rather think the overall impact would have been greater if there had been less going on. (That said, I have no idea what I’d cut.) Also, the romantic relationship portion of the book felt under-developed to me. The jump from low-level acquaintances to “I’m totally into you” and subsequent sex seemed sudden; some of that is possibly my own faith-based views on sex, but I suspect others might also think ‘wow, that escalated quickly…’ (It might have seemed more realistic had there been some awkwardness there, but it was a romance-novel level of instant feeling and comfort in a book whose main character didn’t seem at all the type for it.)
Now that I’ve covered my few issues with the novel, however, I have to say that I did really enjoy it. The plot was intriguing enough to get me past my worries about an incredible non-fiction writer’s fiction, and the journey lasted until the very end. I learned some random food facts–I love random facts, and I love food–and I really did enjoy all of the characters. If I’m being frightfully honest, I would probably be gushing about it if Reichl’s memoirs weren’t such a tough act to follow. My first exposure to her was Garlic and Sapphires, which I COULD NOT PUT DOWN. (SO good. A must if you love food.) I followed that up with her previous memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples; the first was enjoyable, but I had a hard time with the second. Reading about the break-up of someone’s marriage is never easy, but the choices she and her first husband made drove me bonkers. (By Garlic and Sapphires she is happily re-married.) A few years down the line, however, I chose Not Becoming My Mother as my book club pick, and I found that fascinating. It’s brief and thought-provoking and gives a glimpse of life in a different time period that begs for discussion. (It’s also been re-titled For You, Mom, Finally for the paperback edition.) Anyway, to try (too late) to make a long story short, Delicious! is good fiction. I’m just not sure that it matches the amazing quality of some of Reichl’s memoirs.