November 17, 2014
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
Finished on September 23, 2014
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
Ruth Reichl is a born storyteller. Through her restaurant reviews, where she celebrated the pleasures of a well-made meal, and her best-selling memoirs that address our universal feelings of love and loss, Reichl has achieved a special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, with this magical debut novel, she has created a sumptuous, wholly realized world that will enchant you.
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie initially feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.
To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to come to terms with her fears, her big sister, and her ability to open her heart to love.
It’s been many, many years since I first read Ruth Reichl’s witty memoir, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. As I recall, I enjoyed the first half of that book much more than the second half, laughing aloud at some of her childhood memories, as well as her anecdotes about her mother, “the notorious food-poisoner known forevermore as the Queen of Mold.” When Delicious! first appeared on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, I knew I had to give it a try, especially after reading so many glowing reviews by fellow bloggers. I quickly fell into Billie’s new life in New York, enjoying all the foodie details and atmosphere of both the city and the publisher’s offices, when the narrative shifted abruptly. As is my custom, I hadn’t read the publisher’s blurb prior to reading the novel, so I wasn’t prepared for the sudden demise of the fictitious magazine, Delicious! While I enjoyed the letters between Lulu Swan and James Beard, I preferred the foodie aspect of the novel more than the contrived World War II storyline.
Part culinary fiction, part historical fiction (with a predictable mystery thrown in for good measure), this ambitious debut novel was a bit too bland for this reader. Good but definitely not delicious!