I was really excited to pick up this new foodie novel from the library. I enjoy reading fiction and watching movies set in restaurants, and with Michelle Wildgen’s background in food writing, I thought it would be a great book. Instead, I found myself skimming chapters and skipping ahead. On the positive side, the food writing is pretty great. Her descriptions of dishes are mouthwateringly delicious and I could picture the inside of the restaurants from her visual descriptions. But the plot is luke warm. Two brothers who are restaurant partners are challenged when the third brother decides to open a new restaurant across town. There is an undercurrent of sibling rivalry, a few forbidden romance scenes, and day-to-day patter of restaurant business stress. I kept waiting for something big to happen, and it did not. I would say Bread and Butter is an appropriate title. It was certainly no Lamb’s neck with Jerulasem artichokes, broccoli rate and gremolata, even if that is the new restaurant’s signature dish.
I did not read The Silver Lining Play Book by Matthew Quick, but loved the quirky movie characters enough to order this new novel from the library after reading a little bit about it. The first chapter is a letter to Richard Gere written by thirty-eight year old protagonist Bartholomew Neil, and I almost quit when I paged ahead and realized that all of the chapters are written as letters to Richard Gere. But I stuck with Bartholomew because something sweet and innocent and troubled about him reminded me of the protagonist Christopher in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Bartholomew is trying to heal following the loss of his mother, who he cared for, from cancer. Following her death, the priest who has been visiting the family for years moves in, complicating Bartholomew’s life, which has already been complicated enough by the grief counseling sessions he has to attend. At counseling he meets “F-bombing” Max, the brother of the Girlibrarian that Bartholomew has already fallen for. The novel ends with a zany road trip and an awkward, fragile sense of closure for all of the characters. The layers of Catholicism, Jungian psychology, philosophy of Dalai Lama, fear of alien invasion and feline worship make for a much smarter book than I anticipated. In the end, Bartholomew’s mother’s advice, that we must believe in the good luck of right now, rings true.