The New York Times’ review of Ruth Reichl’s debut novel, Delicious!, came out yesterday, and it was about as gentle as a frying pan to the head.
In fact, the last time the Grey Lady went so hard on a widely-known food personality, it was Guy Fieri being skewered by Pete Wells.
Reichl is no peddler of Donkey Sauce though, she served as restaurant critic for both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, and author of the well-received memoir Garlic and Sapphires.
Despite her credentials, book critic Dwight Garner had some choice words for Reichl’s piece of fiction, a story about Billie Dreslin, a sharp young journalist who moves to New York to work at a gourmet food magazine and later uncovers a mystery involving long-lost letters to James Beard. Sound like a foodie's dream world?
Not according to Garner:
- “Ms. Reichl’s novel, however, is strictly kid stuff. It’s a gauzy ode to the liberating virtues of pleasure, glazed with warmth and uplift, so feebly written and idea free that it will make you wonder if the energy we’ve been putting into food these last few decades hasn’t made us each lose, on average, a dozen I.Q. points.”
- “The verbal chloroform arrives so quickly that you’re put in mind of Mike Tyson’s observation: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
- “Welcome to earth mother adjectival Götterdämmerung. On just the first three pages, cakes are “Strong. Earthy. Fragrant” and “rich, moist, tender.” Scents spangle the air. Nutmeg is “delicate” yet “ferocious,” like the quiet storm radio format.”
- "Yet there’s no complicated sense of the food world in “Delicious!” It’s set in circa 2010 but exists in walled-off sitcom space. The year could almost as easily be 1980, or even 1960."
- “Food is so complicated a topic, especially elite food. It’s tangled up with class and race and politics and resentment. Little to none of this comes into play in “Delicious!” Ms. Reichl, talking down to her audience, never allows her intellect to surface. It’s a food novel that never even made me hungry.”
Here’s the full review, in all its brutal glory. Hmm, perhaps the Los Angeles Times’ review will be better?