Saturday, March 26, 2022

Book Review: Marrying The Ketchups

Here are the three things the Sullivan family knows to be true: the Chicago Cubs will always be the underdogs; historical progress is inevitable; and their grandfather, Bud, founder of JP Sullivan’s, will always make the best burgers in Oak Park. But when, over the course of three strange months, the Cubs win the World Series, Trump is elected president, and Bud drops dead, suddenly everyone in the family finds themselves doubting all they hold dear.

Take Gretchen for example, lead singer for a ’90s cover band who has been flirting with fame for a decade but is beginning to wonder if she’s too old to be chasing a childish dream. Or Jane, Gretchen’s older sister, who is starting to suspect that her fitness-obsessed husband who hides the screen of his phone isn’t always “working late.” And then there’s Teddy, their steadfast, unfailingly good cousin, nursing heartbreak and confusion because the guy who dumped him keeps showing up for lunch at JP Sullivan’s where Teddy is the manager. How can any of them be expected to make the right decisions when the world feels sideways—and the bartender at JP Sullivan’s makes such strong cocktails?

This book will be released everywhere on April 26, 2022. Knopf Doubleday Publishing allowed me an early galley in exchange for an honest review.

Two things attracted me to this title as a possible read. First, the cover was very appealing. Second, the title evoked such a very specific imagery. Marrying ketchups is something restaurants do all the time - to combine what remains in some bottles to fill others back up. That phrase, that symbolism, is a perfect thematic metaphor for what the tale is about.

This story is very character driven, and author Jennifer Close does a great job developing her cast into a flowing familial quilt. She presents a family in transition, adjusting to the loss of its patriarch and a world full of change and uncertainty. On that latter point, it captured well that feeling so many had around 2016/2017 when the book is set.

One challenge, though, for any story is the anchoring of it to very specific times and events. On one hand, it can create a touchstone for those reading it (as it did for me). On the flip side, it can end up dating the book as the years move on and the reading encounters get further from that point. Another challenge is when there are political references - again important for this story. They are part of the background mostly, but they could alienate some readers (depending upon their viewpoint). In the past half dozen years, we've come to realize how polarized our society is. A bold choice by the author to address some of these things. I will give her extra props for the musical references from Gretchen's part of the story; I had to smile every time the name of her band was mentioned (pop culture fans like myself will get a tickle from that).

Overall, I enjoyed the story a lot. I was very happy to spend some time with the Sullivans and to get to know their family and lives.

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