Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan

I love to eat. Our local magazine just published the list of the 50 best restaurants in the city and I am trying to convince my husband that we need to eat our way through the list. He is mostly amenable. In our relationship, I am the food snob and he is happy with anything (unless it's eggplant--don't serve him eggplant or he will have a hissy fit). As critical as I can be of restaurant food, I am no where near the level of expert that a restaurant critic is though. And I certainly couldn't live with the need to be so circumspect in my life that I had to worry if someone close to me was connected to a restaurant and currying favor for a good review. How much harder to be the spouse of the critic and be subjected to the same vigilance, as Elizabeth LaBan so cleverly details in her foodie novel, The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

Lila Soto is extremely pregnant with her second child. Having recently moved to Philadelphia, she hasn't yet made any friends. She's had to keep her neighbors at arm's length because her husband Sam is the Philadelphia Herald's restaurant critic and he is determined to stay anonymous for as long as possible. This means that Lila has to vet everyone she meets to make sure that they have no connection at all to the restaurant world in case she blows her husband's cover or causes his professional integrity to be questioned. While she wants to support her husband, she is incredibly lonely and bored. She misses the high powered job averting crises for an international hotel chain which she gave up when she got pregnant with her now three year old daughter Hazel. Lila was once a superstar at crisis management but she really struggles with being a full time stay at home mom, facing the monotony, repetition, and isolation with deep unhappiness. But Sam cannot see beyond his own obsession with his job to recognize just how lonely and miserable Lila is, chafing under the restraints he's imposed on their lives. So it's not much of a surprise that Lila not only cultivates two friendships she shouldn't, one with an old college friend, who is married to a chef, and one with Sebastian, a friendly and understanding waiter at a restaurant Sam reviewed, but after baby Henry's birth also agrees to do some contract work for her old boss, something that makes her feel alive in a way she hasn't for a long time indeed but will bring her into conflict with her husband.

Told in the first person by Lila, the reader will find much in Lila's days unchanging and dull but that is because Lila also views her life this way. Sam's over the top demands keep her trapped and alone until she can find her voice and push for her own fulfillment. Each of them tugs at the other as they try to find a balance that works for them, their marriage, and their individual needs. Along the way, there is a lot of frustration. Readers will sympathize with Lila and find Sam to be ridiculously dictatorial. He all but begs the reader to spit in his food the way he treats his wife as an accessory to his job. Sam's reviews are the epigraphs for each chapter and they give even more insight into the obsessive quirks that make him up. Lila's character is written to be most colorful and alive when she is working rather than during the sameness of her days as a struggling mommy, at least until she finds her own niche in the neighborhood and in her professional life. Very much a domestic drama, there's not a lot of plot driving the novel as Lila comes to some realizations about herself, Sam, and her needs. The conceit of being married to a restaurant critic and the contortions that causes in life is interesting in its own right but this is really a novel about the compromises of marriage, friendship, community, belonging, and finding yourself and your happiness to lead the life you want to lead.


  1. I like the cover on this one. It's very suggestive. LOL

  2. I liked this book - here's my review

  3. Sounds good....thanks for your review.


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