Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

After dropping out of college, Billie Breslin lands a job as Assistant to the Editor of Delicious! magazine, the top foodie publication in New York City. She settles in well, making friends and enjoying the work, until the magazine is suddenly shut down by its owners. Though everyone else is now out of work, Billie is asked to stay on for a time to fulfill a corporate legal obligation, taking calls from disgruntled customers who are unhappy with the way the magazine's "guaranteed" recipes turned out. 

Billie and Sammy, the magazine's travel writer who has just returned to find the office all but empty, conspire to enter the locked upstairs library that has always been firmly off limits to employees. Inside, hidden behind shelves, they find the door to a secret room. In this room are decades of letters from Delicious! readers, among them some from Lulu, a young girl who corresponded with chef James Beard throughout WWII. Fascinated by Lulu's story, Billie and Sammy set out to track her down and find out what happened to her when the letters stopped.

The plot had potential but it went in too many different directions and tried to make all of them equally fascinating. In the end it's hard to say which is the main storyline. 

Some of the situations seemed implausible, like Billie having a fear of cooking because of an unnamed (until much further along) trauma concerning her sister. Even when it becomes clear what happened, the fear of cooking/kitchens doesn't make sense. And then there's the very complicated system used for hiding the letters that seems unlikely and without any real purpose. Add to those a lady who keeps calling the office to complain about the recipes; she's entertaining until she does a startling about turn, behaving like a different person entirely.

Some of the characters felt like stereotypes: the tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside Deli owner who takes Billie under his wing, the irritating man she at first doesn't like then ends up falling for, and Billie herself, quirky, charming and adored by everyone she meets.

A few pages in I thought it might be a fun, light read, instead it felt contrived and over the top. Maybe there were too many characters and too many stories being told to do any of them real justice. 

On a more positive note, I'm reading Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year now and finding it well written and very entertaining. Her own story, about the year Gourmet Magazine shut down (she'd been the editor for 10 years), is much more satisfying reading than I found the novel to be.  


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