Thursday, April 18, 2013

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl

This book has two distinct sections: the first, concerning Pandl's family and the Milwaukee-area restaurant they owned; the second about her parents' aging, illnesses, and deaths. Most of the descriptions I read of this book described a memoir on family business or an inside look at restaurants - and while that's not totally incorrect it's only half right and unfairly dismisses the powerful, emotional second half of this book.

In the first half, we get to know the Pandl family (9 kids, ham-fisted authoritarian chef father, ultra-Catholic mother) and their life in and out of the restaurant. It's well-written and funny, with an appropriate number of behind-the-scenes horror stories you would expect of one who grew up in a commercial kitchen. But what that section really does is set up the characters, emotions, and relationships for the very different second half of the book.

Many adults reach a point where their relationship shifts from parent-as-caregiver to child-as-caregiver. As the youngest child in her family, it seems Pandl frequently diverted her own independent adulthood to return home for one reason or another. But rather than making her bitter about what she lost, this offers her new perspectives on life (and religion) and an unusual, rich closeness with her parents during their decline.

It's 120 pages of a very different writing style - more artistic and less chronological. There's pain, and lots of Catholicism. But there are also some very funny sections and lots of love.

I'm recommending this book, but not necessarily for the reason other reviewers noted. For me, it's all about the second half.

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