I wanted to read The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathon Franzen for a while. I wanted to read Franzen because I felt inadequate being a Person Who Talks Books and not having read any his work. I’d settled on The Twenty-Seventh City because it is about St. Louis. I’m from St. Louis, a city I think of fondly, although it has terrible self-esteem. Unless, of course, we’re talking baseball. Watch out, Boston.
The Twenty-Seventh City does not paint the most savory picture of St. Louis, nor does it paint a sweet one. In it, St. Louis City and St. Louis County are at odds. Some people want them to incorporate, others don’t. Money and power are thrown about in this battle on the urban playground. Mysterious events are at hand. Why did a young woman from India get hired as Chief of Police? Who is buying up all the city’s land and razing old property on the north side? As the book progresses, so does the violence and sex. Violence and sex really do make the literary world go round. Violent sex even more so. Cue Fifty Shades of Grey. Which The Book Cook will not be covering for a variety of reasons. Despite my love of sexy food.
The new Indian police chief, a young woman by the name of S. Jammu, is indeed up to some elaborate schemes. One of these consists of putting prominent St. Louisans into what she calls “The State”. “The State” is an emotional state of imbalance. It is caused by preying on the personal weaknesses of Jammu’s unwitting victims. Once in “The State” they can be coerced into doing things they might otherwise not. I am fairly certain that “The State” is what I experience after dealing with the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Suddenly, buying cookie butter and sub-par produce makes so much sense.
One of Jammu’s chief problems in The Twenty-Seventh City, the man The Chief cannot seem to conquer, is Martin Probst. Martin is a prominent society member and contractor. Man versus woman. St. Louis versus India. I was not sure who I wanted to root for. Should I join Team Jammu or Team Martin? Should I join a team at all? Both characters had qualities that REALLY made me want to, oh, honor them. Although some of these traits were not the most honorable things, such as Jammu’s ability to turn off all emotion and get the job done. Being a robot of destruction is on my bucket list.
Perhaps the indecision I experienced is the sign of a book well-written. It lives in a gray area. It is entirely possible Franzen is not asking us to pick sides. If you want a more in-depth exploration of this book, there is an excellent essay written by The Facades author Eric Lundgren (remember that one?) on The Twenty-Seventh City here. Meanwhile, I must pick a team for this week and move on to food.
I decided this week was in honor of Team Martin and would have St. Louis-oriented cuisine. Next week will be Team Jammu and another recipe in honor of her Indian heritage.
There are a good deal of St. Louis foods I could wax poetic on: gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli (T-Ravs), Imo’s pizza (omg provel cheese-I’m a hater), BBQ, Budweiser Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (get a concrete!) and Crown Candy Kitchen. And then there are the things you can only get in St. Louis that I miss most in LA: coffee from Meshuggah, White Castle (I only miss that at 3am) and Steak n’ Shake, which I only should miss at 3am but I miss always.