Stanley Park: Great on Food; Poor on Plot

           

So Timothy Taylor’s *Stanley Park* was on the list of books recommended to me when I moved to Vancouver. Not surprising, perhaps, as the book spends a lot of time describing the city: the disparity between rich and poor, the exceptional natural beauty, the pretension of the foodie-hipsters who live here and then, in great detail, the landscape of the largest park (and biggest tourist attraction), Stanley Park. 

The protagonist, Jeremy, is an idealistic young chef who owns a hip restaurant and cooks (magnificent) locally sourced meals. The plot thickens as his restaurant struggles to maintain financial solvency, and thickens further as the plot detours to follow Jeremy’s father, “The Professor” who lives IN Stanley Park as part of an ethnographic study of homeless folks who live in the park AND investigating a cold case murder of two children. 

I suppose there are some ways in which these two plot lines intersect: Jeremy visits his father in the woods, thematic parallels around local food and local/post-national belonging. But for this reader it felt very much like two plot lines jammed together without the necessary exposition making it clear why a murder mystery and foodie romance belong together. Indeed, even with careful reading I’m still unsure about who/how the murder was committed, why it was significant for Jeremy and what implications it had for The Professor. 

So here’s how I take it:

The restaurant plot and Jeremy is great. The writing is decent, the descriptions of food and cooking are great and the questions around independent/small business v conglomerate are interesting and worth exploring.

The Stanley Park plot is terrible. The descriptions try so hard to be literary and poetic that it’s entirely unclear to this reader what is happening, to whom and why. More importantly, I still don’t know why I should care about this plot line. What does it have to do with the local food? with food security? 

Hmm. I’ve been telling folks this is a great read (and it did help me past my “Let The Great World Spin” hangover) but in writing this I’m not sure its great so much as the one strand of the novel is great. Can part of a novel be great and the other part terrible and the sum be something like average? I don’t think so. I think it’s still worth reading for the gorgeous food bits, just don’t be surprised if you’re reading and wondering what the hell this Czech guy is doing living on Lion’s Gate Bridge. And maybe also don’t be surprised if you’re a little annoyed with the editor of this book who failed Taylor in not telling him that you can’t just jam two plot flavours together and hope for a satisfying read. 

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Uncategorized

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