From Publishers Weekly
Kurlansky (Salt) moves from his acclaimed nonfiction to a linked collection of spotty-quality fiction. Food is the unifying theme, but in the least successful efforts--"Crème Brulee," "Espresso," "Boudin," and "Hot Pot"--the foodstuffs are smothered by weak characters that are conveyed with less skill than the often lyrical passages devoted to the victuals. In the better pieces, the sensory and cultural anchors that food provide are gorgeously explored, as in "Osetra," which charts the gustatory awakening of a Puerto Rican shoplifter, and "Menudo" in which a stolid and driven U.S. senator bridges a cultural divide with unexpected tenderness. In a contrarian vein, the sludgy salmon brew of "The Soup" reinforces the gap between the last speaker of an Alaskan native language and the inept but earnest anthropologist trying to prevent the language from dying out. "Red Sea Salt," "Orangina," and "Cholent," meanwhile, introduce equal measures of comic ridiculousness and sly wit to varying degrees of satisfaction. While certainly lighter than Kurlansky's engrossing nonfiction, this remains a mostly successful consideration of the role food plays in life. (Nov.) (c)
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This collection of short stories records vignettes from a disparate cast of characters from diverse settings. Each of these stories might stand alone, but Kurlansky has in fact woven them into broader, sustained tales. Readers meet Robert Eggle just as he has gotten stuck in a hole in a sidewalk. Extricating himself, he realizes that he has no memory, no sense of smell or taste. He makes his way back to an office, where everyone seems to know him, but he has no recall of his professional life. Worse still, he can’t even summon up the name of a woman who is apparently his wife. Other characters have more precise food memories, and their tales revolve around specifics such as Bordeaux wines, blood sausages, and Orangina. Those familiar only with Kurlansky’s singular achievements in the world of nonfiction may be surprised at his adroitness in the realm of pure literature. --Mark Knoblauch