Friday, November 3, 2017

Review: The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman

When we lived in suburban Detroit, I organized an annual service day for my alma mater. One year we joined an organization that planted trees in the inner city. As we dug holes and planted new trees to replace those dead from disease, several people came out of their homes and questioned us about what we were doing. Most were suspicious of our motives and some wanted us to stop, at least until we mentioned that the minister of a local church had volunteered to water all the trees in hopes of helping them root and survive. It was a reaction I'd never expected to encounter. After all, we were just trying to help make their neighborhood more beautiful and replace what they had lost long ago. Trees couldn't possibly be political, could they? We moved away from Detroit in 2008 as the housing bubble was bursting in a spectacular way all across the US and so I don't know whether our trees survived or even whether the inhabitants of the neighborhood itself are still there or if they were among those so hard hit that their homes were torn down and they were displaced. What wasn't lost on me though was the idea that what one person sees as a gift of good can be seen otherwise by the people on the receiving end. This is just one of the issues addressed in Peggy Lampman's newest novel, The Welcome Home Diner but one that resonated with me for sure.

Addie and Sam Jaworski are cousins who have bought both a home and a diner in a depressed area of Detroit. They've realized their dream of refurbishing the diner and opening a restaurant focused on the cuisine that means the most to them, the foods they learned to make in childhood with their Polish Babcia and the comforting soul food of their diverse, local staff. They have a kitchen garden behind the diner to supply many of their vegetables and they use local artisans and purveyors for the rest of their supplies. Despite their outreach to the neighborhood and even as they become more successful professionally, they are avoided by the neighbors and patronized mainly by suburban hipsters, a point which continually nags at them, and which runs counter to their vision. Initially things seem to be mostly going well personally and improving professionally for the two women but there start to be cracks in their lives. Addie's boyfriend can't commit to marriage and family, two things she wants more than anything, and Sam's boyfriend has plans that could change everything for the two cousins. A troll has started posting negative and untrue comments about the diner and they are faced with threats by a shady linen company. And the cousins, who not only work together but have bought a fixer upper home together, have a relationship damaging fight. Only the community they have created around them can buoy them up and get them through all of these difficulties and more.

The narrative flips from Addie to Sam so that each woman has a voice for the reader and so that her internal thoughts and pressures can help explain all of the decisions, good and bad that she makes. Occasionally it is difficult to determine who the focus is on, especially when the character in question is ruminating over a problem both women share. Sam and Addie, although growing up under very different circumstances, both need to discover their own self-worth over the course of the novel. They are so focused on the stresses of running the diner and of their respective love lives that they either don't know or they lose sight of their own identity and truth. Their fumbling makes them feel terribly real and familiar. The secondary characters are generally a delightful bunch (although there are one or two who are more irritating and problematic than delightful). Like the city itself resurfacing from the economic disasters of the past, the secondary characters, and in many ways, Sam and Addie too, are looking for a second chance, a personal revitalization if you will. The stresses of owning a small restaurant and the difficulty of having it truly be a welcome home in the midst of a neighborhood that views them with suspicion is very well depicted here. Addie and Sam do want to be good community partners but it's not as easy and immediately appreciated as they had assumed. The novel is full of weighty plot lines, many of which are quite secondary. Lampman takes on a veritable cornucopia of issues in this novel: gentrification, sex trafficking, family, both created and chosen, race, the farm to table movement, rehabilitating convicts, second chances, and forgiveness. There is a clear love of food here with delectable passages about cooking and ingredients that will make any reader's mouth water and there are recipes at the end for any cooks looking to make their own Polish soul food fusions. There's a lot to think about in the pages of the novel and readers of women's fiction as well as foodies and those interested in the rebirth of Detroit will certainly enjoy the book.

For more information about Peggy Lampman and the book, check out her website and blog or like her on Facebook or Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I've encountered situations like your tree planting drama and it always boggles my mind the way people react to things that are meant to be positive.

    This book looks SO good! Thanks for being a part of the tour!


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts