Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.
Who’s your date today? Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, by Randa Jarrar.
Where’d you go? The Chaco Canyon Organic Café in West Seattle.
What’d you eat? I had the smoky yam and kale quinoa bowl($9.95) and a cup of coffee.
How was the food? Seattle is an emotional disaster zone right now, with the dozens of days of gray skies and the below-average temperatures and the occasional bursts of sun that make people act even weirder than usual. No matter how sunny it gets, we know that there's another gray wall around the next bend. So it felt really good to eat something that is wholly healthy and incredibly delicious. You know sometimes you'll eat a bowl of something good and it feels like pure nutrients, like you can envision the vitamins and minerals floating through your body like an elementary-school film strip on nutritious eating? This was that. It actively made me feel stronger, both emotionally and physically. If you're feelng terrible right now, you should try this meal. The garlic tahini added a rounded flavor that the kale and yam couldn't supply on their own, and I also doused the whole thing in hot sauce. It's the meal you need right now.
What does your date say about itself? It's a story collection by an author who is previously best known for her novels. Here's a blurb from author Peter Ho Davies:
These vibrant, funny, earthy, and above all, yearning stories are a revelation.... Like a female, Arab American Junot Díaz!
Is there a representative quote? Here's the first paragraph of the first story, "The Lunatics' Eclipse:"
The neighborhood got its first dose of Qamar the summer of her ninth birthday, when she sat on the rooftop of her Alexandria apartment building for ten days and waited for the moon to come down. She did it for her neighbor Metwalli; he promised he'd be hers forever if she only brought him the moon. Metwalli was twenty-four and had no idea that Qamar would take his pledge to heart.
Will you two end up in bed together? Yes, although I must admit that this first story didn't wow me as much as I wanted it to. Jarrar is an excellent stylist and her prose is first-rate. But this first story feels very typical of an early-2000s short story aesthetic: bring several strands of magical realism together, introduce some bizarre coincidences, and then end the story at exactly the moment before it's revealed whether the fantastic elements are real or just fanciful. I loved the places this story went, but I hated how familiar the structure and tone felt. I'm eager to read more and see if Jarrar has some other tricks in store for her readers.