In my novel, What’s Left, having her family own a restaurant opens another dimension to the story – the changing food tastes of the American public.
If Carmichael’s continued solely as a burger-and-fries joint, we’d have a much different type of story, one based on the day-to-day interactions of line cooks, dishwashers, wait staff, and a slew of customers. One of my daughters has already drafted an exciting and entertaining story based on her own experiences in the trade – now, if she’ll only get it published! Realistically, a restaurant like that would likely wind up in bankruptcy halfway through the novel – or maybe even the victim of arson, if not accidental fire.
So having Carmichael’s expand, as I do, shifts the focus to a revolution in the awareness of food itself. We have plenty to play with that way.
Admittedly, in my new novel, What’s Left, her family has a lot of good luck – accompanied by enough bad things for balance.
In the early drafts, I liked the fairy-tale, larger-than-life tone – as befits the “best movie ever” or “best novel ever” lists of upwards of ten thousands of listings that I hear from younger voices around me. Still, I’m a bit too Aristotelian to allow more than one as the best of anything, and I’m not referring to Cassia’s great-grandfather Ari here, either.
No, I’m thinking of the fact she’s in a close-knit extended family that’s prospered. In this case we have three brothers who’ve worked tightly together. A more common example in today’s society would be the three brothers who will never again speak to each other after their mother’s estate is settled. And that’s before we get to their children, the cousins who barely know each other, unlike Cassia’s.
There’s her aunt Nita, who’s negotiated a contract to assure she owns her daily newspaper column.
The adults who’ve joined in the family get along well together, something that’s never a given.
And Cassia herself lays claim to a rare happy childhood, up to the point when tragedy strikes when she’s 11.
I never intended this optimism when starting out on this work – it’s just where the narrative wanted to go. If the novel originated, as I think it did, in revisiting the aspirations of the hippie experience, what follows fits well as a foil to directions American society has since taken.
By the way, I do love fairy tales, especially in their more ominous, early, unrefined versions. The kind where Rapunzel’s pregnant or Cinderella’s stepsisters lose their feet.
There are a few of those touches in Cassia’s tale, too, just in case you wonder.
Put yourself in the story. Or have Cassia stop in your neighborhood for a visit. Where would you want to dine with her? Create something imaginary, if you want, or simply take her (and us) to one of your favorites. (For some of our neighbor girls, it would definitely be the Creperie.)
My newest novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where her future father lands in a bohemian band of siblings who’ve just taken over the family restaurant after a car crash killed their parents.
It’s a lot of responsibility on young shoulders.
Sometimes, when you put a dish together, the balance is off. It can even mean starting all over. What do you think of this?
At home, Tito and Diana, still in school, need to make sure their siblings are up to the job of parenting and running a house. What about their grades, the laundry, cleaning the bathrooms? Who pays the bills? Who’s really in charge, for that matter? The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.
The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.
In his final half-dozen years Pappa Stavros had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his dealings, not to mention bad loans to his buddies or timing.
What I know of the food business is all second-hand, but I still wonder about taking leadership of an enterprise as a young adult. In my early 20s as second-in-command of a small newsroom, I was given surprising leeway and yet I’m still grateful for the stability provided by my older boss – even though I’m not sure he was always the most mature in some of our gunfights with the wider community.
We did have a great corner restaurant, though, run by two brothers and their wives. Just a coincidence, if you’re thinking of Cassia.
Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Doing what? What’s your strongest memory?
One of the glories of a literary work comes in creating the entire scene and its characters in your own head. Still, a common referent nowadays is in our familiarity with movies and television actors and actresses. Many of them even become “celebrities” whose every sneeze is flashed across social media.
In an imaginary movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you have portray Cassia’s father, Baba?
I’d be tempted to have him be rather faceless, actually, maybe ethereal or even a large puppet. But you probably would go for something far more realistic.
In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.