If you want a quick UF read that is loads of fun, give Envy of Angels a try. I’m a bit tired of grim-dark, the awful state of humanity, etc., and is just what the nurse ordered (because a doctor would order an anti-depressant).
Best friends and unemployed cooks Lena and Darren are job hunting after being blackballed in New York City. Never mind why–suffice it to say that they are virtually untouchable and about to be reduced to looking for jobs in Jersey (this is how you know the author actually talked to a New Yorker in researching the book). They get an offer to work on trial basis with a famous chef,
“sorta Bobby Flay meets Guy Fieri, only–‘
Besides–he’ll pay their last rate plus twenty per cent. They head out and discover a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a deserted street.
“Maybe it’s some kind of new reality show,’ Darren offers as they approach the front doors. ‘you know, find young, hot, down-on-their-shitty-luck chefs and bring them to some weird-ass building in the middle of nowhere and surprise them.’
‘I notice you tossed ‘hot’ in there.’
‘I was talking about me.'”
Turns out, they actually have to pass an audition to work the line, and that’s only the beginning of the unusual challenges they’ll face in the first week.
Speaking of challenges, Wallace nailed the cultural aspects of the restaurant trade, so don’t read this if you have a problem with cursing. Once, I took care of a chef for a month, and I’m pretty sure every sentence included the word ‘fuck’ in its many variations, and that was just in conversation, not under stress. There’s staff rivalries, diners that threaten to kill you, and the head chef’s insistence that everyone taste what they are cooking. How else will you know what you are creating? Here’s the problem–the latest special ingredient presents more than the average ethical challenge.
Writing was just fun, clever, with a fast moving plot. I’d read more from Wallace, who has managed to walk the fine line of absurdity, seriousness and personal and ethical challenges. It reminds me somewhat of A. Lee Martinez, with a tone that’s almost serious, putting characters you care about into somewhat bizarre situations.
I do wish that there was more about the kitchen and cooking process. Though a couple of the scenes focused on taste tests, I would have wished more fussing with ingredients and preparation. Besides, it would have been a nice way to develop characters further–why not maximize the set-up? Which leads me to the more fundamental concern: I think characterization could have used a bit more fleshing out, and potentially would have pushed this into book length. Characters weren’t cardboard so much as reduced to minimal description, particularly once the cast includes the servers and the Stocking & Receiving department. Moon, who walks around with an external defibrillator and has already died six times today; Ritter, leader of the team, and Pacific, who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of ganja, get the most play.
It definitely went to a silly place, but really, all appropriate in the context of the world. Let’s just say I’m more disturbed than ever by the idea of chicken ‘nuggets.’ The finish was solid with a bit of a pun-nish groan, but–hey–no cliff-hangers, so bonus! I’ll absolutely be buying the rest in the series as they appear (currently Tor has bought 1 though 4 in a tentative series of 7).
Thanks to Lindsay for the review that encouraged me.