Title: A Place at the TableAuthor: Susan Rebecca White
How I Got It: from author (via Alison Law)
A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced characters whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan cafe: Bobby, a gay Southern boy who has been ostracized by his family; Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman whose life is upended when a family secret finally comes to light; and Alice, an African-American chef whose heritage is the basis of a famous cookbook but whose past is a mystery tho those who know her.
As it sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to the Manhattan of the deadly AIDS epidemic of the 1980s to today's mansions of Old Greenwich, APlace at the Table celebrates the healing power of food and the magic of New York City as three seekers come together in the understanding that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole.
Susan Rebecca White's novel opens in 1929 with a brother and sister discovering a lynched boy hanging in the woods. White then switchs storylines and settings to idyllic 1970s Georgia, complete with decorated bicycle "license" plates and professional housewives. Bobby is by all manner "a good Southern boy" but his family finds some of his tendencies troubling. As Bobby's story progresses, White draws attention to his internal guilt as a gay teen coming of age in an unwelcome environment as well as the self-acceptance and strength necessary to follow one's own path.
In recent years the question of "what makes a family?" has changed. The traditional definition no longer applies. Divorce, adoption, inter-racial and same-sex parents have become more common but the time these were not even talked about is in the near enough past that we can all remember. White's ability to personalize the struggles of not fitting into an expected set of social norms is equal parts heartbreaking and eye-opening. The tangibility of societal undercurrents is evident in every character's interaction. Encompassing race, sexuality, and class as well as every degree of love, friendship and family, White emphasizes that nothing and no one is superior to another. We are each one point on an infinite spectrum and must learn to respect and accept that no one else embodies that point except us. We may gravitate toward others we feel share our thoughts and beliefs but believing that our way is the only "right" way will only bring us pain and frustration.
Juxtaposed against the harsh reality of exclusion, White layers in love, tenderness, and the role of food as an expression. I could write a paper on the symbolic detail of each of the dishes and ingredients White peppers into her story. (Seriously, somebody talk to me about salmon mousse as a red flag!!) Every detail is so perfect that the food deserves to be listed as a character in this novel.
I can never pick a favorite book but this is in my top 3 for 2013 and I've been recommending it left and right. I also rarely re-read a novel but I definitely will be re-reading this one. (Maybe I'll make note and do a second review about the food symbolism)
** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **