A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White is not a story about hunger. It entertains the reader with a tale about three people. They moved to New York City to escape family pressures, and to look for something missing from their lives. The stories intermingle at the delightful Café Andres.
The Café got its start in 1946. It attracted a literary crowd. Writers such as Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and James Baldwin regularly dined at the establishment.
One of the main characters, Alice Stone prepared the original gourmet meals at Café Andres. She hailed from Emancipation Township in North Carolina. Once she was old enough, she moved to New York City seeking her brother, James. In 1929, he had been forced to leave home after witnessing some local white men lynch an African American youth.
Alice wrote a cookbook in 1961 detailing her family history and recipes from the Café. Shortly after its publication, she left the restaurant. In the summer of 1981, they hired a new chef, Bobby. Teaser, the cookbook plays an important role in the story.
Bobby is the son of a Southern Baptist Minister. He is also a homosexual. When his grandma died, she left him $5,000. He wasted no time in getting to New York City. In need of a job, he charmed his way into one at the Café. He had learned a little bit about cooking from his Grandma, and even more from Alice Stone once he met her.
Kate, a book publisher, enjoyed dining regularly at Andres. She oversaw the writing, and publication of Alice’s cookbook. Her niece Amelia is the third main protagonist of the novel.
Amelia and her life are a mess. Her husband is successful and rich, but more than a bit of a cretin. Their daughters have gone to college and boarding school. Amelia lives in fear of upsetting her husband. Before the girls left for school, she accidently shut their poodle in the car. It died from heat exposure.
Life is the antagonist in this story. The book covers many social issues–racism, AIDS, homosexuality, domestic infidelity, and the changing role of women in society. White’s characters represent three sections of society that have been traditionally disadvantaged due to cultural norms.
Readers may find themselves against the protagonists because of preconceived biases. Susan White challenges the reader’s belief system regarding gender equality, racial bias and homophobia.
Many of the characters come from the South, and move north in hopes of a better life. Bobby runs from unaccepting parental units who want to fix him. However, Bobby’s grandmother accepts him, and offers him a place to live. She gives him money to start a new life.
Alice is in search of her brother, and a place to live. The Stone family lost their property in Emancipation Township during the Depression. She can’t go home.
Amelia has always been cared for and pampered. She ran the house, and played the role of the perfect hostess. Her mother-in-law was Atlanta aristocracy, and set high standards.
Food is the unifying theme throughout the book. Bobby meets Alice while shopping at an open-air vegetable market downtown. We get to know the characters as they prepare food in the kitchen. The food draws Kate and Amelia into the story. They come to Café Andres to dine on fine food and enjoy the ambiance.
Literature courses teach that a good book changes or at least challenges the beliefs of the reader. Susan Rebecca White does that with this book. She may challenge too much. At least one scene may cause the book to end up on some groups banned book list. It would be a shame because not only is this a good book; it is also an entertaining book.
This is Susan Rebecca White’s third book. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s taught creative writing at Emory University, Savannah College of Art and Design as well as at Hollins University. I think she knows a little bit about Southern attitudes and Atlanta socialites.Powered by Sidelines