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IT’S NOT A SPOILER! You know me guys– you know that I HATE spoilers, and I try to craft my reviews so that you can still fully enjoy the book. This is as close as I’ve ever come to dishing out something (see what I did there?). Yes, it does cue you in to something that happens in the book, but I promise you that it doesn’t spoil the plot. It is a pivotal point in Edgar’s life, which is why these food references are so key to the book.
It has taken me forever to review this excellent book by Victor Lodato. I cooked the meal and took the photos weeks ago. I’ve been very vocal in saying that this may be my favorite book of 2017, so why the reticence? Maybe that’s why. Too much pressure to make you want to read it as much as I enjoyed it. Or maybe it’s the scope. This is not just a suspense novel, although it includes suspense; it’s not just a mystery, although it certainly fits that category, too. It’s not just a family saga or a dip into the supernatural, yet it contains those elements as well. In short, it is a novel of epic proportions, weaving in and out of the past with a deftness that awes. The pages (including the cover!) are rife with symbolism, and I can see this novel on literature syllabi in the future.
In case you shy away from the academic reference, fear not– this novel is also very readable; a page-turner, if you will. Five hundred thirty three pages in length, but I devoured it in less than a week. (If you have more time for reading than I do, I’m betting you’ll be finished in two days.)
Lucy is the mother, Edgar the 8-year-old son, although the parent/child roles often seem reversed or blurred. Edgar is an old soul. He is different: albino and small for his age. He doesn’t have any friends to speak of or a living father. His life is shadowed by a mystery surrounding his childhood and his father’s death, a mystery that his mother and grandmother fastidiously keep from him. Edgar’s true parent is Florence, his Italian grandmother. She is his rock, his confidante, his best friend. It is no wonder that her death sends both mother and son into a spiral of confusion and self-discovery.
So, let’s talk about food. Florence’s tomato patch is a character in its own right, although I’ll let you read the book to find out why. Although there are several instances of food references, one meal in particular stands out. Edgar is in the kitchen with his grandmother. He loves the kitchen. “The kitchen was warm and Edgar was under its spell, believing himself and all that he loved safe from whatever lay beyond the dark window (59).” It is his grandmother’s domain, and tonight she is cooking meatballs and farfalle, his favorite. The description of her mixing up the meatball mixture is poetry itself: “She washed and dried her hands, then tossed the tiny leaves and grated cheese into the bowl of meat, added the nutmeg and the garlic, and the stale bread, twirled the black pepper, pinched the salt, broke the single egg on top of it all, before plunging her fingers into the mix, gently pressing and turning the ingredients until the various became the singular (57).”
But Florence is distracted by an invasion of memories, and she is letting dinner burn. Edgar is directed to turn the meatballs and stir the pasta. He has never before been ushered into the inner sanctum of meal preparation, and follows her scattered directions with trepidation. When his mother enters the room, Edgar is crying over the burnt meatballs, and she is startled by the tomato-sauce “wound” on his shirt, a foreshadowing of…. something? The dinner is terrible– not just the taste, for Edgar has butchered it, but because Lucy and Florence have a roof-raising fight. Edgar goes to bed to block it out, but reenters the room later when he hears slaps. His mother leaves the house in a rage, and his grandmother, winded, goes to bed shortly after. She never wakes up. Edgar, with his 8-year-old brain, thinks that it is his fault. Thinks that it was the meatballs. “There would be no tomatoes; he knew that. He’d picked the last three just a few days ago, the night of the murderous meatballs (136).”
(If you think that I am giving you too much information, or that such a pivotal event should not happen so early in the book, you greatly underestimate the storytelling abilities of this author! Edgar’s and Florence’s stories are far from over.)
This is the meal, of course, that I must recreate to honor the book. Since my culinary vocabulary needs so much work, I had to look up exactly what kind of pasta farfalle is (bowtie). Because I’m still figuring out my wonderful Instant Pot, I decided to try a meatball recipe for a pressure cooker. I used this one: Pressure Cooker Meatballs in Easy Tomato Sauce by Pressure Cook Recipes. THEY HAVE BACON IN THEM! (Recipe notes: I omitted the fennel because I don’t like the taste of licorice. Chop the uncooked bacon finely because it won’t be crispy in the meatballs. It will blend with the hamburger to create a tender, smoky meatball.)
There you have it! I hope you liked the review of this book, because YOU MIGHT WIN A COPY! But, time is almost out. The contest ends tomorrow (6/16/17) at noon, and I will be announcing the winner shortly after that via Facebook video. If you haven’t entered yet, or increased your chances of winning by sharing with your friends, click below.
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Until my next meal!
Your literary voyager and helpful house-elf,