‘Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food” (University of Nebraska Press, 260 pages, $19.95) is filled with delicious and surprising flavors. When I picked up the book, which is edited by Peggy Wolff, I was expecting a collection of homey essays about comfort food. The book opens that way, with a reprint of a 1990s essay by author Elizabeth Berg that explores the joys of meatloaf.
But immediately thereafter, it is revealed that the ingredients list for this collection is more diverse than I first thought. The second essay is Stuart Dybek’s recounting of a field trip to the Chicago stockyards he took as a schoolchild. “Field Trips” is wonderfully written, but also brutal and profane — a far cry from a reflection on a favorite dish or shared meal.
The variety of topic and style continues throughout “Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie,” but the collection is held together by the overall quality of the writing. Among my favorite entries is Mary Kay Shanley’s “Thanksgiving Dinner.” Shanley, who hails from central Iowa, offers up an artfully constructed essay exploring shifting Thanksgiving traditions in her family. The piece is a beautiful consideration of the changes wrought by time as well as the traditions that survive.
Jeremy Jackson, an Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum who lives in Iowa City, touches on similar themes in “When a Pie is More than a Pie,” which closes the collection. Jackson considers the redeeming and connecting power of food — the ways in which lovingly prepared pie can sooth and connect souls. The essay, and book, ends on a plaintive note, yet another flavor added to the book’s palette.
Rob Cline is a writer and published author, marketing director for University of Iowa’s Hancher and director of literary events for New Bo Books, a division of Prairie Lights.
- What: Tim Bascom, Mary Kay Shanley and Peggy Wolff read from “Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie”
- Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 20
- Cost: Free