Ruth Reichl’s Delicious! was the first novel I completed in 2018. I borrowed it from the library toward the end of last year because I was in the mood for something light and fun, possibly romantic, and about food, so I picked up Delicious! because its cover beckoned to me and the title made me curious.
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine’s deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the “Delicious Guarantee”-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn’t know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.
Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine’s library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu’s letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu’s courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love. (Goodreads)
The story started off great and I was immediately hooked. I liked the characters the protagonist, Billie, meets at Delicious! and all the talk about food, which made my mouth water as I read. There was also lots of mentions of restaurants and shops in New York City, which made me miss the city so much that I immediately texted my cousin and told her that we’re going to a bunch of brunches in NYC in the summer. (Why brunch? Because that’s my favorite time of day to eat.)
I also enjoyed reading about Fontanari’s, the cheese shop where Billie works part time, and thought it hilarious that part of her interview for getting the magazine job is to spend time with the owner as he shows her a part of NYC. I thought that was really cool, as far as unconventional interviews go.
Unfortunately, about midway through the story started to go downhill. Billie annoyed me because I didn’t believe her meekness. She’s great at everything and people often tell her so, but she chooses not to believe them. Since the story is told from Billie’s perspective, her reflecting on such moments made it seem as if she dismisses the many compliments she receives just so people will insist on feeding her more.
I also didn’t like that her sister, Genie, wasn’t given a voice. Genie is absent from the story and only makes a physical appearance when Billie reflects on her past. Billie otherwise writes letters to Genie to which Genie doesn’t respond. As we read, we’re basically supposed to just believe all that Billie tells us about Genie. I didn’t like this because Genie is given no opportunity to defend or explain herself.
Much as Billie claims to revere her sister, I thought she was disingenuous because the examples given of her looking up to her sister is always paired with Billie seeming less for doing so and Genie taking advantage of her sister’s high regard for her. Again, because the story is told from Billie’s perspective, it seems that Billie is telling us about her great and awesome sister with false sincerity, which is why the ending fell flat for me. I thought Billie very judgmental of sister because it’s obvious neither Billie nor her father knew what pressures and stresses Genie was battling. Actually, Billie is very judgmental in general. Her quick assumptions of people, such as thinking the lady who calls complaining about the crazy recipes she concocts must live in a trailer park, really irked me.
I also found it odd that though Billie is living and working in New York City, she sees only two Black people the entire time she’s there (so the entire novel). I guess this wouldn’t have bothered me much (due to reading so many books in my life about places where many Black people live but somehow don’t appear in the story) if not for the placement of the only two Black people in this NYC. The first is a Black man, who Billie mentions only because she finally notices someone checking her out. She’d just gotten a makeover (during which we learn she’s suddenly a great stylist) and after leaving the shop, her day is instantly better and she’s now aware that she looks good and people admire her…even, oh my gosh, a Black man! (rolls eyes)
The second Black person mentioned is a decorator who’s said to think of herself as “God’s gift to the universe” and possesses a “lordly manner.” In short, she’s probably called a bitch behind her back, which is the impression I got when she’s first mentioned in the story. Both Black characters are beyond minor characters and only appear in one or two short sentences.
I also didn’t like the romance. It was rushed, and I don’t mean Billie sleeping with guy on the first night. I don’t think the romance was needed and since it was added toward the end and was brief, I find it hard to consider this novel a romance, as so many have categorized it on Goodreads.
And the ending sucks. It, too, was rushed. We are basically given a summary as an explanation for how things turned out, so I was still left with questions. However, I liked how the mystery surrounding the letters Billie had found worked out. That’s the story’s only strong point. Well, that and all the descriptions of food. Everything else fell flat.
But since I was interested in some of the story and didn’t mind Reichl’s writing, I would like to try another story by her, especially if there’s lots of descriptions of food and another recipe to try at the end.
It started out good, but I lost interest as the story progressed. The romance was rushed, the ending was rushed, and I still have no idea who Genie is because I don’t trust Billie’s opinion of her sister.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
It will keep your interest so if you’re interested in food and/or cooking and would like a light, quick read, you could try this.
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