Friday, February 15, 2013

The view from the other side of the buffet

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch
by Julia Pandl

If there are two more terrifying phrases in the world of reading than "debut author" and "self published," I don't know what they might be. Put them together and you've got a foolproof recipe for a truly awful reading experience. Julia Pandl's funny and touching Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, however, is a marvelous exception to that iron rule.

Memoir was self published in 2010. After a year of modest sales and positive reviews, it was picked up by Chapel Hill's Algonquin Press and released nationally in 2012. Since then, both readers and critics have been lauding Pandl's now-widely available book.

Part coming-of-age memoir and part meditation on grief, loss and pancakes, Pandl's book is misleadingly titled. The first half is straightforward memoir, describing Pandl's teens and twenties and what it was like growing up the youngest of nine (yes, nine) children and working in her family's restaurant. Her family life is unorthodox, thanks equally to its unruly size, its whole-hearted dedication to the restaurant business, and its eccentric paterfamilias. The second half fast-forwards almost to the present day, beginning with Pandl's mother's death before shifting its focus to her father in his final years. For all that, it's not a gloomy book. Julia Pandl is an unabashed daddy's girl, and Memoir is a rollicking warts-and-all hymn to her father, George.

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch will appeal to anyone who ever has worked in a restaurant, especially one of those mom-and-pop (and nine kids) operations that somehow flourish amid a rising tide of heat-and-serve franchises. It also will appeal to those who enjoyed John Grogan's Longest Trip Home, which offers a similar blend of pathos and humor in its recounting of a very Catholic, midwestern childhood and the inevitable loss a parent in adulthood. Both works, by the way, are blessedly free of dour religiosity. Finally, if you happen to recognize the Pandl family name from their Milwaukee restaurants, Memoir simply is required reading.

Review by Don Beistle

Click the title or cover to request this book.

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