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"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal
Each chapter tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.
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My compliments to the editor: this book was strikingly even in the quality of the stories. As something of a literary Japanophile (preferring Tanizaki to Murakami) I fell in love with this tome. Though the authors offer up a variety of voices, they are all equally impressive in tone. They all display a competence and an economy that is particularly Japanese. A favorite was Jenn Reese's "Lady Blade," wherein a possessed sword is reawakened for battle; elegantly told, the story is infused with a mythological strength that, whether it's based on existing Japanese folklore or not, the very fact that it's impossible to tell what is imagined and what is based on tradition speaks to the overall strength of the collection. Ekaterina Sedia's "Ebb and Flow" is pure aquatic magic, and reads like an underwater fairy tale but again, with a level of polish that really puts the author's full talents on display. The same can be said for Ken Scholes' story, "Hibakusha Dreaming in the Shadowy Land of Death", a great tale of vanishing gods in an atomic age, one of three that deal with WW II, of which Erzebet Yellowboy's "The Green Dragon" is a thrilling read of a kamikaze pilot's secret love with the kind of twist one finds in the well-wrought tales of Kawabata, and if you know that writer, then you know there could be no higher praise. Really, I could go on and on about the quality of each story, and could only barely muster one criticism, and that would be that only one story deals directly with Japan's fascinating technological and cultural present: Robert Joseph Levy's nifty "The Rental Sister," but just buy this book and know you are getting one of those little collections of precious gems, to be savored slowly, as each story possesses its own particular shine and facets, and that together they make a remarkable necklace, much like the islands of Japan.
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Fantasies with a Japanese theme written by and for primarily Western audiences are sadly rare. So it's a shame these fine stories suffer from such a poor unprofessional editing job. Typos every few pages, unexplained switches in font styles for certain words, etc. (One particular Japanese term in the first story alone appears just italicized the first few times, then just capitalized, then italicized and capitalized for no discernible reason.) These kinds of issues are always jarring and rip me from my enjoyment of the book. Perhaps some readers will be better able to ignore them. While this may be common for self-published titles, a book produced by a publisher (even a small one) ought to be able to do better. Disappointing.
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