Timely, well-written, heartfelt but . . .
Blurb: Jerome Sugar learned the art of baking in his grandma’s bakery, also called Sugar, on historic Perdita Street in San Francisco. He supplies baked goods to the Lost and Found Bookshop across the street.
When the restaurant that shares his commercial kitchen loses its longtime tenant, a newcomer moves in: Margot Salton, a barbecue master from Texas.
Margot isn’t exactly on the run, but she needs a fresh start. She’s taken care of herself her whole life, pulling herself up by her fingernails to recover from trauma, and her dream has been to open a restaurant somewhere far, far from Texas. The shared kitchen with Jerome’s Sugar bakery is the perfect setup: a state-of-the-art kitchen and a vibrant neighborhood popular with tourists and locals.
Margot instantly takes to Jerome’s mother, the lively, opinionated Ida. The older woman proves to be a good mentor, and Margot is drawn to Jerome. Despite their different backgrounds their attraction is powerful—even though Jerome worries that Margot will simply move on from him once she’s found some peace and stability. But just as she starts to relax into a happy new future, Margot’s past in Texas comes back to haunt her…
In Susan Wiggs’ latest novel, Sugar and Salt, Margot Salton is on the verge of realizing her dream, opening a barbecue restaurant despite a past that keeps rearing its ugly head. As part of this realization, Margot meets Ida and Jerome Sugar, the mother/son team behind the bakery adjacent to her new restaurant who will both impact her life in very different ways.
Sugar and Salt can be divided into three stories, which may be the reason why I came away feeling a bit more “meh” about the book than I might otherwise have felt. First we have modern Margot who’s looking for a place to open her restaurant and then the inevitable anxiety attached to the opening of her restaurant and all of the pitfalls that naturally come along. Then we have young Ida during the turbulent late 60s/early 70s, caught up in the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war, falling in love with a White man. And then we have young Margot, Margie Salinas, fighting for her life in more ways than one.
While I whole-heartedly believe that Sugar and Salt is timely, well-intentioned, and necessary in the ability of artists to encourage open-mindedness and open-heartedness, to be front and center in social change or acceptance, I ultimately felt that it spread itself a bit thin. I didn’t feel the same passion and emotion in the first two sections that I felt in the one about young Margie Salinas. For me, as painful as it frequently was and as angering as it frequently was, it was the heart of this novel, which I’m not certain it was supposed to be or why else have the Ida section? In fact, as much as I liked young Ida and her pursuit of freedom and love, I’d rather she was given more time than allotted here. Wiggs’ really raised the emotional bar in the Margie Salinas section that wasn’t met in the others. The romantic relationships felt uninspired but that’s only because they weren’t allowed to flourish.
While I would love to tell you more about the Margie Salinas section, I feel like I might be delving into spoilers because the book is told in a non-linear fashion with a past being hinted at until it becomes major. Frankly, I wished Wiggs had written a more linear story because the deliciousness of Margie/Margot’s success would have tasted sweeter, perhaps her romance with Jerome would have felt more passionate. Maybe we all could have delighted in the saltiness and the sweetness. As it is, a flavor felt missing to me, the flavor that would have given it more depth and not just padding.
I do believe that this has become the thing lately–mesh a historical situation with a present one for meaning or depth or to draw commonalities or associations. However, if the writer doesn’t create enough depth in both sections, one or the other feels anemic and drags down the other. Which leads me to wonder, why have two stories if you’re not going to do well by both and by that I mean, fully flesh out the stories?
And, perhaps I’m wanting/needing more than I should from this book, but I felt like the possibility was there.
Lastly, gosh, I wish there had been more time spent in the kitchen. For all of you foodie readers out there, don’t you love chefs stirring the pot (metaphorically and literally)? All of that delectability of food being created? I was expecting more of that. There are recipes at the end. That helps a little.
Have you read it? What did you think?
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.