|The Restaurant Critic's Wife|
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Title: The Restaurant Critic's Wife
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Publication Date: 1/5/16
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 1/5/16
Summary: After moving to a new city for her husband's career as a food critic, Lila feels increasingly isolated as a young wife and mother. Her husband seems distant and she begins to question the choices she has made to reach this point.
What I Thought: I enjoyed this book. It felt different than a lot of what I read. The fact that I qualified it as "chick lit" above should make that much clear. Had the protagonist's husband had any other career, I likely would have passed this one over when TLC offered me the chance to read and review it. However, as always, I succumbed to the pull of foodie fiction.
I loved how LaBan, who is married to a restaurant critic in real life, started each chapter with a "review" written by Lila's husband Sam. It lent an air of authenticity to the book, as well as hinting at the mood and events of the subsequent chapter.
The book follows the family after their move to Philadelphia from New Orleans, where Lila had also enjoyed a thriving career. Now, in a new city with two children and no friends, Sam wants Lila to stay under the radar to avoid exposing his identity in the food world. She feels increasingly isolated and trapped at home with her two small children, no one with whom she can talk openly, and a husband completely distracted by his work.
In a lot of ways, this book made me sad. Watching Lila struggle was almost painful at times, especially considering Sam seemed distant and unwilling to acknowledge her loneliness and need for help. I have to admit - I really disliked his character. In fact, in the end, I was hoping for more balance in their resolution.
I had the opportunity to join in a live chat with author Elizabeth LaBan a few weeks back and talk about the book. Most people asked questions about the parallels between the book and her real life (her husband is a restaurant critic in real life, so there is no doubt the book carries some auto-biographical traits). The chat included a lot of fun tidbits, including LaBan's desire to cast Connie Britton (who I love) as Lila in a hypothetical film adaptation. I got a chance to ask a few questions as well:
RWR: Seeing the tension between Lila and Sam was almost painful at some points. You did a great job depicting Lila's emotional struggles and isolation. In the end, they seem to have reached a tenuous balance. Did you want to create more resolution between them (a more "happily ever after" scenario) or did you find ending this way to be a more realistic depiction of compromise within a marriage?
ELB: That's so interesting that you say that. To me in the end Lila has made a choice to stay with Sam and is very happy with that choice - but I think I do tend to leave my books open ended so I guess I'm not surprised you read it that way. In my mind she is happy and is where she wants to be.
RWR: I was curious as to why [Sam] uses a fake name when out at dinner, rather than a pen name to write under. Is that standard for the industry?
ELB: Oh that's interesting - I don't think he has ever considered writing under a different name but as far as when we're out I think he figures if someone suspects he's there and then we keep yelling Craig across the table it would give him away!
RWR: What is your favorite genre in which to write? Do you find one easier or more difficult than others?
ELB: I love both young adult and women's fiction but I think women's fiction would pull ahead if they were racing - I just love it - to write it and to read it.
I do have to say - the descriptions of eating out a lot and ordering tons of food at the expense of the paper sounds fun! As evidenced in the book, there are down sides as well, but I think I would enjoy being a critic or close enough to a critic to get invited out on occassion.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I loved the descriptions of food and that aspect. Lila's predicament felt very relatable, although I don't have kids yet. It's evident the emotion behind the book stems from LaBan's own experiences, causing it to ring more true in execution. I still would have preferred more resolution at the end; the compromise seemed to come mainly from Lila accepting her life choices and less from she and Sam finding true balance in their marriage. Still, as LaBan says above, they end the book happy, and that's what matters.
*To read other bloggers' thoughts on The Restaurant Critic's Wife, check out the full tour schedule.*
Will I Re-Read: Possibly
A Reduced Review: Though on the surface this book seems to be about food, it's really about family and the sacrifices we make to achieve balance in our lives.