Sunday, June 08, 2008

Tuna-Noodle Casserole, Literary Version

Robert Parker has always written in an incredibly mannered style, and as time goes by, the mannerisms become more and more the essential thing in his writing. He must really be able to do it fast -- I think he publishes two police novels per year. Spare Change, his latest paperback (at least it's dated June, 2008), is no exception to this trend. Spenser, Parker's original detective hero, always revealed various things about himself via food choices and reactions to food. The novels are set in the eternal present (from the 1960s or 70s to now) and the food always reflects the times, as well as the character of the diners.

In Spare Change, Sunny Randall, improbable wonder woman, psychoanalytic subject, and heroine of several recent novels does the same. In one scene, a tuna noodle casserole creates an opportunity for some of Parker's characteristic archness. Sunny is having lunch with her mother, her sister, and her sister's fiance Charles. "My mother had made tuna-noodle casserole and served it with a side dish of tomato aspic on a lettuce leaf. There was a basket of brown-and-serve rolls, and butter in a cut-glass dish," Sunny, the narrator, says.

The conversation turns to the wine that Charles had brought them. "It's really very drinkable," Charles says, pretending not to notice that the mother has poured herself a stiff bourbon. "From Alsace. Ideal for a convivial lunch, I think. Especially with fish." Sunny's mother mentions that tuna-noodle casserole had been her daughters' favorite. Sunny continues to report this conversation:
"It looks delicious," Charles said. "Do you make your own noodles?"
My mother nodded enthusiastically.
"I boil them first," my mother said. "But about a minute less than they need, so that they can cook in the casserole without getting overcooked."
Charles nodded vigorously.
"And are they homemade?"
"Sure, I made the whole casserole this morning."
"And the noodles?"
I couldn't tell if Charles was merely making conversation of if he was busting her chops for his own amusement.
"The noodles?" my mother said.
As far as my mother knew, noodles came in a box. She'd never imagined someone making them.
"Mom uses Prince noodles," I said.
"Absolutely," my mother said. "I swear by Prince."
"They'll be fun to try," Charles said. "Anyone been to Tuscany?"

And so on. I won't bore you by further comment on how Parker writes dialog. It's worth a read, even if his plots are now beyond improbable and his characters are less than 2-D.


Anonymous said...

I love reading novels where the characters love and discuss food. BTW-- I've been laughing and laughing about your French friend's take on marshmallows and peanut butter! I think if I were dropped into the US without prior knowledge of either food I might feel the same way.

Jen said...

I'm SO happy you posted this! I need to get back to Parker reading again. Sort of let him languish. Do you know what the first title in this series is?

Mae, I can't tell you how many wonderful books you've turned me on to.

BTW... there are a group of us local women food bloggers getting together for a potluck on July 12 at Teacher Patti's house. We'd love to have you. Please e-mail me at jenshaines at aol dot com if you're interested.

Mae Travels said...

Parker's first Sunny Randall book was "Family Honor", pub. 2000. There are now six. She also appears in some of the ones about detective Jesse Stone. Frankly, I wouldn't try to read too many Parkers in close proximity -- there's a little more repetition than a human could bear (a goldfish could handle it, since they have no short-term memory).

Thanks for the invitation. I have to do some checking about July 12 -- I might be out of town.