A taste of Ruth Reichl’s new novel Delicious!
I’m a big fan of Ruth Reichl; I really enjoyed her memoir, Tender at the Bone. I was pleased when I heard she was turning her hand to fiction, and I was very interested to read her new novel, especially once I started hearing the good reviews.
Can you tell that opening was a set up for disappointment? Indeed, the novel was a let-down for this reader. It is the sort of book that, when I started it, I knew right away that it wasn’t really going to engage me, and I kept telling myself to put it down when there were so many other books beckoning for my time. Yet I persisted. I think I did so in large part on the strength of her name, her reputation, and my previous pleasant experience with her memoirs, and to a lesser degree because I did find her main character, Billie Breslin, to be charming, and I was interested to see how she made her way to finding herself in this coming-of-age novel.
Not only do we have a charming Billie, but Reichl has created a quirky and appealing set of secondary characters to keep Billie company, particularly Sal, the owner of the cheese shop where Billie works. Reichl also, unsurprisingly, writes really well about food. Much is made in the beginning of the book of Billie’s special talent. She has a perfect palate, and can taste anything and discern what the ingredients are, even if it’s something rare and obscure like, apparently, curry leaf. However, later in the book this is only glancingly referred to, and I was sorry to see this amusing parlor game drop. When a character takes a bite of food, Reichl’s prose lights up with colorful adjectives. Unfortunately, when she’s merely writing about plot, her prose is duller.
As for plot twists and turns and the big reveal… well, I figured out the secrets about Billie’s sister long before they were revealed (if you’ve read Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, you will, too), and the love interest has a flashing red arrow pointing at him, so that one is a given. As for the main plot point of the book, Billie’s discovery of a secret stash of letters between famous chef James Beard and an unknown young girl written during WWII, it is (here comes that word again) a charming conceit, but not, for me, enough to hang a novel on.
My verdict? A good beach read, but your brain won’t get too tangled up in it.