Sometimes life begins with sad endings. Eva Thorvald is the central character of Kitchens of the Great Midwest. She is the daughter of chef Lars Thorvald, a man who learned to bake and to make traditional Swedish Lutefisk at his father’s side in Minnesota. Eva grows up precocious and with her father’s love of cooking filtering down through her genes. She never knows her biological father and mother as the family who raises Eva does not tell her about them. They love Eva but do not share her budding interest and talent in gastronomy.
Chapters continue with new beginnings that lead to other endings; humble origins lead to lofty goals; unusual pairings in both food and relationships are showcased as people move in and out of each other’s lives. I feel that the book often changes directions and I was left a little befuddled with how it would conclude as the narrative jumps ahead a few years, introduces new characters, twines around, diverges and comes back to its center again. There is humor and sadness, some vengefulness and cunning, longing, relocation; all with a sense that we make what we will out of our lives, often through some tough struggles but with a sense of Midwestern fortitude.
The payoff I was waiting for delivers in the end. People who enjoy a story told in an offbeat, unconventional manner will enjoy reading author J. Ryan Stradal’s debut novel.