Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"The Restaurant Critic’s Wife"

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

She teaches fiction writing at The University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She also ghost writes a weekly column, and has ghost written two books.

LaBan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Restaurant Critic's Wife, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
Sam Slides the flowers from Aunt Gladys into the trunk, while I snap Henry’s infant carrier into the car seat base in the backseat.

Sam starts the car and heads down Eighth Street.

“Hey,” he says. “We aren’t far from this new hoagie place everyone is talking about. It’s just a few blocks south of here. Why don’t I swing by, and we can pick up some sandwiches?”

“Sam, we are taking our baby home from the hospital! And I haven’t seen Hazel in four days! Can you stop thinking about food for one minute?”

“We have to eat,” he says, unfazed by my comment. “Come on. It’ll only take a second.”
Page 69 is almost the perfect page to pull out of the book because there are a few different things going on, all of which carry through the entire novel. On this page of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife we are toward the end of Chapter Three. Lila and Sam just had their second child, Henry, and are packing up to leave the hospital. The page begins with Sam on the phone with his Aunt Gladys as he thanks her for sending flowers to them in the hospital. This is a different side of Sam from the one we usually see in the book. Here he is very sweet and patient, neither of which are his most visible traits. Lila finds it annoying because she wants to get going. On the one hand, she generally wants more from Sam. She wants him to stop and think and pay attention, while not being so obsessed with his job. And we see that here, it is his soft side, which I will argue he most definitely has. But it is funny that when it doesn’t suit Lila, when she is in a rush, she doesn’t have patience for it. Sam’s reaction to Aunt Gladys is a window into his family life growing up, and the parental support he did or didn’t have – which we learn about throughout the book.

As Sam and Lila drive away from the hospital, the tiny Henry strapped into the back, Sam suggests stopping to get hoagies at a new place “everyone is talking about.” That is so Sam. He is always thinking about food, always tuned into what is new and hot, and does not want to miss it or ever be the last one to try it. Never mind that they are literally taking their newborn baby home for the first time. In the end, the hoagie place is harder to find than he expected, and he leaves Lila and Henry in the car for longer than he promised he would. The baby gets upset, Lila gets angry, and Sam eventually returns to the car with such a huge bag of sandwiches that it looks like, “enough to feed our whole block,” Lila thinks.

The punchline that we don’t see until pages later is that once they get home and everyone is hungry, Lila is happy that Sam thought to stop for food. All these themes, Sam’s different sides, Lila’s reaction to those sides, Sam’s obsession with food, Lila’s resistance then eventual acceptance and even appreciation of that, are ideas that are thread throughout The Restaurant Critic’s Wife. I had no idea Page 69 was so telling!
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue