Review: Bone In the Throat (Anthony Bourdain)

I suck at reviews, but I feel like I need to type some shit today that doesn’t have to do with plastic Virgin Mary trying to kill someone.

A wildly funny, irreverent tale of murder, mayhem, and the mob.

When up-and-coming chef Tommy Pagana settles for a less than glamorous stint at his uncle’s restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy, he unwittingly finds himself a partner in big-time crime. And when the mob decides to use the kitchen for a murder, nothing Tommy learned in cooking school has prepared him for what happens next. With the FBI on one side, and his eccentric wise guy superiors on the other, Tommy has to struggle to do right by his conscience, and to avoid getting killed in the meantime.

In the vein of Prizzi’s Honor, Bone in the Throat is a thrilling Mafia caper laced with entertaining characters and wry humor. This first novel is a must-have for fans of Anthony Bourdain’s nonfiction.

So here’s the thing. I was gonna just slap it in my finished list and give it some stars until I realised that I wasn’t sure HOW many stars to give it. And that started a whole barrage of questions, so I think I’ll just talk out loud here.

Of course I liked the book. It has all the things I love: murder, swearing, the mob, everyday people just being people, people who smoke, people who casually drink, people who casually do drugs, food porn, real porn, and unflinchingly real descriptions of mundane life. Bourdain, at one point mentions that a woman in the shower hums the final Jeopardy theme to time her conditioner. I like that kind of random shit. And I liked the ending. The last line has a swear word in it. I like that stuff.

On the other hand, a lot of the things I like are kind of indulgent. A session of the main character prepping the kitchen for service starts on page 35 and goes until page 39. Paragraph after paragraph of “then he added cumin, and chanterelled the mushrooms, and peeled some garlic.” I can see how some people would think that was excessive and indulgent. I can see how structurally it’s almost too much for the books. There’s a whole scene about a secondary character almost getting busted whilst scoring H that doesn’t really have a place in the book. BUT I loved it.

But when I’m assigning star to something, it gets harder. I vacillate between the validity of the stars. In fact, to use a bit from the book to illustrate:

“What does [Al’s wife] cook when it’s like your birthday, special occasion, and she wants to lay it on right for you? It’s gotta be…there’s not to be one thing she makes for that, right? One thing she does real good. Something special. With my mom, it was veal saltimbocca. she’d go down to the store and bitch at the guy till she got the right piece of veal, fight over the price, then she’d come home and pound the shit outta that veal with this mallet she had…I guess it wasn’t that good, to be honest. I seen a lot of veal saltimbocca since then. But I loved it. I still love it. Moms are like that. They get themselves a small repertoire of things they think they do real well, and then they do it over and over.”

This kind of writing is Bourdain’s veal saltimbocca, and it’s mine too. So what do I do? Give it four stars? Is this when we start arguing about “How could you like that crap?” Someone somewhere out there gave Twilight five stars, and I don’t know if I have the balls to say that was a bad thing on their part.

So what do I do? I give it four stars for everything I love. I give it two stars as an objective reader. Three means it was “meh”.

But it wasn’t meh to me, right? It was fricking awesome. Two characters briefly discuss whether or not it’s classy to run over a body of a person you just shot with your stolen car (Misplaced modifier is misplaced, i know.). “It gets forensics on the wheels.” LOL. Later two characters talk about the guilty pleasure foods they love (Al’s wife makes him red jello with fruit cocktail in it and he LOVES it.). I love that stuff, the sidebar kibitzing.

So yeah, Bourdain, I see what you did thar. You awesome guy, you.

PS: reading this kind of stuff gives me potty mouth.

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About Amanda Ching

I write. Fo' you.
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