Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal

Saturday Night At The Lakeside Supper Club
by J. Ryan Stradal
Read by Aspen Vincent
9 hours, 20 minutes
Published April 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Mariel Prager needs a break. Her husband Ned is having an identity crisis, her spunky, beloved restaurant is bleeding money by the day, and her mother Florence is stubbornly refusing to leave the church where she's been holed up for more than a week. The Lakeside Supper Club has been in her family for decades, and while Mariel's grandmother embraced the business, seeing it as a saving grace, Florence never took to it. When Mariel inherited the restaurant, skipping Florence, it created a rift between mother and daughter that never quite healed. 

Ned is also an heir-to a chain of home-style diners-and while he doesn't have a head for business, he knows his family's chain could provide a better future than his wife's fading restaurant. In the aftermath of a devastating tragedy, Ned and Mariel lose almost everything they hold dear, and the hard-won victories of each family hang in the balance. With their dreams dashed, can one fractured family find a way to rebuild despite their losses, and will the Lakeside Supper Club be their salvation?

My Thoughts: 
This is my third book by Stradal and I've come to expect a few things from him that he, once again, delivered: 
  1. A multi-generational story.
  2. Well written female characters, always female leads which is impressive from a male writer. From Betty to Florence to Mariel to Julia, each of these women is fully developed, flaws and all. 
  3. A terrific sense of setting. Stradal knows the area, its people and its food. 
  4. Which brings me to food. Betty marries the owner of the Lakeside Supper Club, Mariel marries the son of a man who started a chain that is putting supper clubs out of business. The tradition of the foods at the supper clubs contrasts with the food of the chain; the traditional foods of the supper clubs also plays out against healthier, more current ways of eating. 
Each of Stradal's books changes in how he tells his stories. Here we move back and forth in time and in points of view. It should, in theory, help us to understand why certain characters become the people they become. It should also give us hints of things to come. It works, for the most part: but there are a couple of places where I really struggled with it. One is with Betty's character - although she seems to be a hard worker, early on, she is also constantly on the move, with morals that seem to waver. Yet, as soon as she meets Floyd, she happily settles and mends her immoral ways. We start knowing something about Mariel that makes a latter part of the book very painful to read (I can't tell you more without spoilers). Florence is an overly protective mother, to the point that she and Mariel are not close at all as adults, and yet she allows something to happen that is entirely out of character. Mariel's husband is meant to inherit the family business; but we know, early on, that he isn't the man for the job - his beloved sister, Carla is. Yet, once she takes over, she entirely disappears from Ned's life. 

I like the relationships between the generations, complicated as they were. And I appreciated that Stradal was able to surprise me, near the end, with something I never saw coming. I've been very satisfied with the endings of Stradal's other books but this one seemed rushed and not satisfying. Had it, perhaps, felt less rushed, it might have ended in the same way and not been as flat. All in all, despite author Roxane Gay called this "a perfect book," I feel like this book didn't live up to its potential. 

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