Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Pretty Good American

I'm sitting at home this morning, watching through the window as the snow falls incredibly quickly, more than an inch an hour, with up to fifteen inches expected by the end of the day. And how better to spend an unexpected snow day than writing about the latest lovely book from Blogher's Book Club?

This month's selection is A Good American by Alex George, and it happens to be set in the same state that I'm sitting in right now, Missouri, though about 100 years have passed since the opening of the book and my snowstorm. I love reading books set in my home state. And George did an excellent job of capturing a small town at the turn of the century. There were so many things I enjoyed about this book. (And though I was compensated for this review, the opinions in here are completely mine, and would you have it any other way?)

The book follows the Meisenheimer family from the first budding love of Frederick and Jette in Germany, their flight from disapproving parents to the United States, up through New Orleans, and finally settling in Beatrice, Missouri. We watch as Frederick and Jette begin their married lives together as immigrants settling in Missouri, learning English, new customs and culture and figuring out their place in the community. World War I comes, children and with that comes all the tragedy, love, and trials of a young American family. Some of the pieces I enjoyed the most were the chapters about the small tavern and then restaurant that the family owns. Descriptions of generous, solid German food, then into the Cajun and Creole recipes that the fabulous jazz musician Lomax teaches Jette to cook. The writing in this book is lovely and warm and slowly paced, just like a fine meal served at the Meisenheimer's cafe. The characters are compelling and feel very real. I thought the first half of the novel was stronger than the second half, if only because I felt more connected to the parents in the book than the children. The need to wrap up the novel with a few twists and then mysteries solved seemed a little too tidy for me, but this is a graceful and unhurried travel through a century of the Meisenheimer's of Missouri, a good American family.

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