Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl

>> Sunday, March 24, 2019

TITLE: Delicious!
AUTHOR: Ruth Reichl

PAGES: 380
PUBLISHER: Random House

SETTING: Contemporary New York
TYPE: Fiction

In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.
Ruth Reichl is a food writer and journalist, and I understand her work is very well known in the US. She's written a few memoirs (including one I have on my TBR as well, covering her time as restaurant reviewer for the New York Times), but she's also written a novel, and this is it.

Billie Breslin is a young woman trying to make it in New York City. She happens to have an incredibly sensitive palate, and that and her fascination with food land her a job in the offices of famous food magazine Delicious. It's a lowly secretarial job, but there are definitely prospects for moving into journalism there, and Billie is soon taking steps in that direction.

And then suddenly, everything is up in the air. The magazine is closed down by the money-grubbing corporate owners, and the whole staff is out of a job. Everyone but Billie, that is, because there's one bit of Delicious that must continue. See, the magazine has always offered the "Delicious Guarantee", promising that if a recipe doesn't work, the reader gets their money back. And someone needs to deal with the enquiries that still regularly come in about it.

It is while answering sporadic Guarantee-related calls in the now-empty offices that Billie discovers some fascinating letters. It turns out that James Beard (even I have heard about him!) used to work for Delicious way back when, and the archive still contains letters sent to him by a young girl during the war. The girl's story, revealed through her side of the correspondence, grips Billie completely, and finding out the rest of the story requires her to embark on a treasure hunt designed by the ghost of librarians past.

I had such mixed feelings about this one! On one hand, Billie is the ultimate Mary Sue. She's got this supernatural palate, lands this amazing job through not real effort on her part, and everyone immediately adores her. She has a Very Tragic Past that makes her sad and stops her from doing what she's meant to be doing with her life, but absolutely no flaws. Everything about her feels clich├ęd. We even get a make-over scene where she figuratively takes off her glasses, gets some clothes that fit, and becomes a proper knock-out. Oh, and she's not only beautiful, but an instinctive genius at putting together incredibly cool outfits. That inborn genius matches well with her food-related inborn genius. Her story is basically wish-fulfilment, and she herself was incredibly boring.

The thing is, all the food stuff is the kind of wish fulfilment that works for me, unlike other kinds of wish-fulfilment books like the ones with the Plain Jane heroine falling for the rock star. Billie's New York City really is the city of dreams, filled with eccentric deli owners whose shops are veritable wonderlands and who want nothing but to feed the enchanting heroine mouth-watering morsels. That's a dream I can get behind!

So while I kept rolling my eyes as I was reading, I did enjoy myself quite a bit. The whole story-line about the letters was pretty ho-hum for me, but spending time in foodie New York with Billie and her cool friends was super fun in spite of my cynicism.

MY GRADE: It's a B-. Flawed, but it did work for me more than maybe it should have.


Post a comment

Blog template by

Back to TOP