This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.
Title: Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit
Title: Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit
Author: Jessica Tom
Publication Date: 10/27/15
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 11/1/15
Summary: New to NYC, Tia is hoping for a graduate internship with her idol, food writer Helen Lansky. Instead, she finds herself working the coat check at a prominent Manhattan restaurant and being pulled ever deeper into a world of secrets she had never anticipated. Designer clothes, fancy meals, and professional connections all dangle before her, so long as she stays quiet about her real work.
What I Thought: First and foremost, let's address that title. Despite the suggestive name of the book, Tia does not prostitute herself - at least not in the traditional sense. The book's back cover defines a "food whore" as someone who would do anything for food. Tom seems to placing Tia in that category, although I would mount a strong argument that Tia's morally questionable actions are driven by professional ambition, not her love of food. While Tia does not offer up her body for prestige and power, she does basically sell her loyalty, her trustworthiness, her relationships, and, in many ways, her true identity.
Basically, Tia becomes the secret voice of the food critic for The New York Times, Michael Saltz. Saltz has mysteriously lost his sense of taste (This whole plot point seemed underdeveloped to me. How did he lose his sense of taste? Does that really happen?) and is hiding his condition for obvious reasons. For the world's most prominent food critic to admit as much would be similar to an art critic going blind or a music critic going deaf; job security would be out the window in a flash. Saltz's reasons for pulling Tia into his secret seem murky, too. It's easy to see that she is an ambitious, talented, and naive young woman, but could Saltz have really known enough to trust her after a few meetings? To me, this was one plot hole I could not overlook.
Regardless, Tia does end up beholden to Saltz as he uses her words and culinary experiences for his own reviews in exchange for an unfettered expense account for designer clothes and the chance to eat at the best restaurants in the city. Still, as Tia's roommate finally says to her in the end (see the quote below), secrets are dangerous and end up controlling you. Tia slowly looses control of her own life and becomes a person nearly unrecognizable from the fresh-faced student who readers meet at the beginning of the book.
I did appreciate that, in the end, Tom does not give Tia all the trappings of her old life back. Instead, when everything inevitably comes crumbling down around her, Tia must start afresh. She is not granted a return to who she used to be, because none of us ever are. Instead, she rights her course and does her best to move forward along a new, healthy path. I thought setting her up this way, with new friends and even some new professional interests, reflected a much more realistic ending.
The real highlight of the book comes in Tom's descriptions, particularly of food. It's obvious she has a personal affinity for both food and fashion; she devotes the extensive space to colorful, detailed descriptions of everything that goes in Tia's mouth and hangs in her closet. I enjoyed the fashion commentary, but I loved the passages about food. Tom did an excellent job making the reader feel as though they sat at the table with Tia. The eccentricities and risks on each plate came across clearly, as did the pros and cons which Tia assessed for the reviews.
All in all, I enjoyed the book. It was a fun read. Far from perfect, but clearly written from the heart. I cringed a bit at some of the grittier details of Tia's journey (a well known chef seduces her to get a good review), but I completely understood that those moments were all a part of her entrance onto the food scene. As I have written about in other reviews of food-centric novels and memoirs, the industry has many dark corners and chefs cling to any number of vices to carry them through their long hours and stressful work days. Not that that makes any of it right, but Tom represents the industry well here. For a book entitled Food Whore, Tia's descent into the underbelly of the New York restaurant scene could have been much more depraved.
*To read other bloggers' thoughts on Food Whore, check out the full tour schedule.*
Quote I Loved: "You think you're the one who keeps the secret, but really it's the secret that keeps you."
Will I Re-Read: Maybe - those descriptions of food may call my back.
A Reduced Review: Willing to do nearly anything to advance her food writing career, Tia makes a series of bad decisions which lead her deep into the hypocrisies and secrets of the restaurant review process. It makes for a fun, but slightly bumpy ride for readers.