A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Delicious! is the first novel by Ruth Reichl, who has already earned a solid reputation as a food writer. She is a former restaurant critic for the LA Times and the New York Times, and had a 10-year stint as editor of Gourmet magazine. I’ve been a Ruth Reichl fan for quite a while, having read all four of her memoirs and particularly enjoying Tender at the Bone, about growing up and becoming a foodie, and Garlic and Sapphires, stories from her restaurant critic days in New York. She’s a skilled writer, funny and entertaining. So I’ve been looking forward to reading her first crack at fiction.
The narrator of Delicious!, Billie, is a young woman who has just moved to New York City and been hired as the editor’s assistant at a magazine by that name. She wins the job by impressing the editor with the gingerbread she bakes for him, and her amazingly sensitive palate and knowledge of foods. When the magazine unexpectedly folds (reminiscent of what happened when Reichl was at Gourmet), Billie is retained as the sole employee, to support the magazine’s longstanding guarantee of its recipes. When she and another former employee start nosing around the now-deserted headquarters, they come across a hidden stash of letters between the famous James Beard and a young fan who wrote to him at the magazine during WWII. Thus begins a sort of mystery that involves finding all the letters and then their writer.
Although this was an easy read and somewhat entertaining, I was disappointed. The characters had little depth, and the book was full of clichéd descriptions and dialog. I expected better from such an experienced writer. Also, I thought the novel went in too many directions. There was a little bit of romance, a little bit of mystery (about why Billie refused to cook), a little bit of detective work, a little bit of an inside view of the restaurant and magazine and food retail businesses, a little bit of family angst, a little bit of historic preservation (the mansion the magazine was located in). I would have enjoyed the book more if it had left out a few of those plot points, and instead spent more time on character development and exploring, say, the goings-on in the food testing kitchen. Then Reichl could have saved some of her remaining ideas for a second novel.
Nevertheless, this book would be a light, fun beach read. And the recipe for Billie’s gingerbread is included.
Reviewed by Nancy