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A Place at the Table: A Novel

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Overview

From Susan Rebecca White, award-winning author of A Soft Place to Land and Bound South, comes a breathtaking story of three richly nuanced outcasts whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café as they realize they must give up everything they thought they knew to find a home at last.

Alice Stone is famous for the homemade southern cuisine she serves at Café Andres and her groundbreaking cookbook, but her past is a mystery to all who know her. Upon Alice’s retirement, Bobby ...

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Overview

From Susan Rebecca White, award-winning author of A Soft Place to Land and Bound South, comes a breathtaking story of three richly nuanced outcasts whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café as they realize they must give up everything they thought they knew to find a home at last.

Alice Stone is famous for the homemade southern cuisine she serves at Café Andres and her groundbreaking cookbook, but her past is a mystery to all who know her. Upon Alice’s retirement, Bobby Banks, a young gay man ostracized by his family in Georgia, sets out to revive the aging café with his new brand of southern cooking while he struggles with heartbreak like he’s never known. Seeking respite from the breakup of her marriage, wealthy divorcée Amelia Brighton finds solace in the company and food at Café Andres, until a family secret comes to light in the pages of Alice’s cookbook and threatens to upend her life.

In her most accomplished novel yet, Susan Rebecca White braids together the stories of these three unforgettable characters who must learn that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this latest from an emerging Southern literary voice, White (A Soft Place to Land) muses on friendship, the connecting power of food, and the effects of a Southern heritage on one's search for identity. The tale begins with Alice Stone and her brother James, a close-knit pair growing up in 1920's Negro-owned Emancipation Township, North Carolina. James is sent to New York because of his "uppity" attitude, and the book's focus abruptly shifts to Bobby, a white boy from a strict religious family in 1970's Georgia. His later career as a chef in a famous New York restaurant is foreshadowed in his love for cooking with his mother and grandmother, whose pound cakes are legendary. The savings from thousands of sold pound cakes fund Bobby's escape to New York when his family ostracizes him for being gay. Here he meets renowned chef and cookbook author, Alice Stone. However, their stories don't truly intersect until Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman in a failing marriage, happens upon the scene. Once again, food, prospective cookbooks, and Southern influences link characters before they discover a deeper connection through guarded secrets from the past. White's prose is graceful and evocative, but the plot stumbles as the disparate characters' trajectories become muddled in each other's stories. (June)
From the Publisher
"No writer should be able to write smoothly and cleanly from three very different perspectives about lost love, betrayal, pound cake, fear, family ties, racism, Baptists, "the other," Episcopalians, the south, and New York. But Susan Rebecca White has—and without a false note nor a single sentimental pink bow. All this in her new and best novel yet: A Place at the Table. The story is suspenseful, surprising in the best way, and ultimately resounding. It's so good I wish I could tell you more about it. The story will bring you face to face with all sorts of demons and lovely things—and with some very real people whom you just may recognize as family."

"Susan Rebecca White is a first rate talent whose work is like good bread; it rises, and it leaves us filled. A Place at the Table is a love story written for expats and orphans, for all who seek home and find it in the most beautiful, the most unlikely place. This is a glorious novel, told in a pitch perfect voice. I love this book."

A Place at the Table reads like a master chef's five course meal: each section makes its own delicious sense, but taken all together the intertwining stories in this novel create something uniquely magical. Susan Rebecca White made me think, made me cry, made my jaw drop, made me laugh out loud. A story of outsiders in this world, this fantastic book defies convention in plot, characterization, and even narrative structure, to forge something amazing in its pages: new identities, relationships you have not seen before, new stories, characters you will never forget. Like a brilliant new recipe: it works! Savor this confident storytelling — you'll know you're in good hands from the first page. A book you'll devour quickly and then want to share with friends!”

“Susan Rebecca White creates a world as exact as a documentary film and as lyrically imagined as a poem, moving seamlessly between the voices of three disparate characters whose lives connect in surprising and satisfying ways. She has a remarkable ear for dialogue and gift for crafting moments—both big and small—that reveal humanity in all its awkward, muddled splendor. A Place at the Table stayed with me long after I turned the last page.”

A Place at the Table is the story of troubled souls finding their way and making a place for themselves through the magic of the big city and a love of cooking. With unforgettable characters, rich detail, and seamless narration, White's new novel will long remain in the reader's mind and memory, a gentle reminder of the importance of acceptance in all it's forms and the myriad connections that surround us."

Kirkus Reviews
White (A Soft Place to Land, 2010) was clearly inspired by the friendship of Atlanta chef Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis in this labored story about a young gay man who leaves Atlanta for Manhattan and is taken under the wing of a legendary African-American female chef. In 1929 rural North Carolina, 12-year-old Alice is separated from her beloved twin, James, when he is sent north after a lynching. Her consolation is cooking, and she grows up to be a world-famous chef. In 1970s suburban Atlanta, white middle-class teenager Bobby becomes an outcast in his conservative, Christian family once his sexual orientation is known. White's Atlanta is geographically correct--she loves to drop street names--but her descriptions lack any of the city's complexity during that decade. With a small inheritance from his understanding, saintly grandmother, Bobby heads to New York in 1981 and begins working as an assistant to owner Gus at Café Andres, the restaurant Alice opened with Gus years earlier. She has since moved on to write a famous cookbook but agrees to attend a luncheon put together by Bobby. The lunch is a failure--Alice is cool and preoccupied while her agent, Kate, is interrupted by a visit from her niece Amelia, distraught over a marital crisis--but Bobby goes on to make a name for himself as chef at Café Andres; unfortunately, the food descriptions sound like menu entries, lacking real passion or sensuality. Shortly after Bobby's longtime lover dies from AIDS in 1988, he runs into Alice again. She apologizes for her previous rudeness, and soon, they are inseparable; not only do they share a love of Southern cooking, but both have loved and lost Jewish men. In 1989, Kate's niece Amelia finally leaves her philandering husband, who happens to be from a well-heeled neighborhood of Atlanta. She moves to Manhattan and begins to uncover the predictable yet farfetched secret hidden within Alice's cookbook. Turgid prose pits ever so sensitive heroes and heroines against intolerant bullies.
Booklist
A Place at the Table is the story of troubled souls finding their way and making a place for themselves through the magic of the big city and a love of cooking. With unforgettable characters, rich detail, and seamless narration, White's new novel will long remain in the reader's mind and memory, a gentle reminder of the importance of acceptance in all it's forms and the myriad connections that surround us."
author of The Night Train - Clyde Edgerton
"No writer should be able to write smoothly and cleanly from three very different perspectives about lost love, betrayal, pound cake, fear, family ties, racism, Baptists, "the other," Episcopalians, the south, and New York. But Susan Rebecca White has—and without a false note nor a single sentimental pink bow. All this in her new and best novel yet: A Place at the Table. The story is suspenseful, surprising in the best way, and ultimately resounding. It's so good I wish I could tell you more about it. The story will bring you face to face with all sorts of demons and lovely things—and with some very real people whom you just may recognize as family."
Joshilyn Jackson
"Susan Rebecca White is a first rate talent whose work is like good bread; it rises, and it leaves us filled. A Place at the Table is a love story written for expats and orphans, for all who seek home and find it in the most beautiful, the most unlikely place. This is a glorious novel, told in a pitch perfect voice. I love this book."
Lydia Netzer
A Place at the Table reads like a master chef's five course meal: each section makes its own delicious sense, but taken all together the intertwining stories in this novel create something uniquely magical. Susan Rebecca White made me think, made me cry, made my jaw drop, made me laugh out loud. A story of outsiders in this world, this fantastic book defies convention in plot, characterization, and even narrative structure, to forge something amazing in its pages: new identities, relationships you have not seen before, new stories, characters you will never forget. Like a brilliant new recipe: it works! Savor this confident storytelling — you'll know you're in good hands from the first page. A book you'll devour quickly and then want to share with friends!”
Karen Abbott
“Susan Rebecca White creates a world as exact as a documentary film and as lyrically imagined as a poem, moving seamlessly between the voices of three disparate characters whose lives connect in surprising and satisfying ways. She has a remarkable ear for dialogue and gift for crafting moments—both big and small—that reveal humanity in all its awkward, muddled splendor. A Place at the Table stayed with me long after I turned the last page.”
Associated Press Staff
“Tasty…fascinating…each character is a convincing creation…a pleasure.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Great expectations follow when a book opens with three distinct, seemingly unrelated story lines because you know somehow they all will be lashed together by the end….White’s ability to write with a believable voice from three such disparate perspectives keeps the “How?” at bay, while providing a sounding board for social issues that continue to confront us today.”
Atlanta
"Beautifully told...White's characters are drawn with tremendous care and precision....perfectly observed."
Good Housekeeping
For fans of The Help, a tale of Southern exiles—an older black woman (based on legendary chef Edna Lewis) and a young gay man—who find each other in New York City through their love of down-home cooking."
The Roanoke Times
"Engaging...a story of acceptance, of finding oneself, and of healing."
The Anniston Star
"White is convinced that coincidence doesn't exist, that we come together becasue there is a grand plan always at work. Rendering that truth so confidently and effortlessly—that is White's magic. Wanting each of us to find a place at the table—that is White's gift."
San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review
"Beautifully written...inspiring."
The Bitter Southerner
“The greatest Southern literature — from Faulkner on down — has dealt squarely with the broken pieces of the South. But White does this difficult work firmly in the modern age. The topics of classical Southern writing — race, class, religion — are all there, but she explores our more modern challenges, such as the acceptance of gay sons and daughters into our families, with a directness and courage that would do Flannery O’Connor proud….White has the remarkable ability — shared by only the greatest storytellers — to let her characters be who they are, for better or worse. Her writing never leads the reader to conclusions; it lets us draw our own.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451608878
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,394,670
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Rebecca White is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Bound South and A Soft Place to Land. Born and raised in Atlanta, she spent many years in San Francisco before returning to her hometown, where she teaches creative writing at Emory University. Visit her online at SusanRebeccaWhite.com.

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Read an Excerpt

A Place at the Table


  • Alice and James

in North Carolina

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(1)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

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1 Star

(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2014

    Go sit somewhere else

    This book lacked character and story development, and failed to draw the reader in to sympathize with the characters. The characters were stereotyped (the Southern black woman making a go in the big city, the Southern gay male brought up in a Christian household, the alcoholic housewife with limited skills); trotting Anita Bryant out in the guise of a minor character continued with the cliches. There were some glimmers of good story lines yet these were never fully developed, and the reader could tie the story lines together long before the end of the book. Finally, the book lacked tantalizing descriptions of food, something that was implied in the title yet also never fully developed. Besides getting tired of descriptions of pound cake, other foods were generally just mentioned in passing without whetting the appetite.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2014

    Just finished the book. A great summer time read!!  

    Just finished the book. A great summer time read!!  

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 30, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The novel mostly centers on Bobby. I will be honest and say I've

    The novel mostly centers on Bobby. I will be honest and say I've never read a story about a gay male protagonist. I wasn't sure what to expect. The story begins when Bobby is just a little boy, even before he is understanding himself. I found myself falling in love with this little boy and cheering for him as he began to stand up for himself. Even as he becomes an adult, I felt so parental for Bobby! Oh and such an awful time, the 80s during the AIDs epidemic--I won't say more.




    I felt so much for Alice, she had seen, lived and lost so much over her lifetime. Really liked her and had so much empathy for her. The story of Amelia--seemed out of sync with the rest of the novel. I will say it ended up coming together beyond my expectations! I have mixed feelings about the end of the novel. I would have liked a little more closure with one of the characters. However, it was simply a wonderful novel. I would highly recommend it. I also would have loved some more recipes in the back of the book :) everything sounded so yummy!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 23, 2014

    A rich, beautiful novel about three unlikely, complex characters

    A rich, beautiful novel about three unlikely, complex characters who meet in a chic Manhattan café and realize they must sacrifice everything they ever knew or cared about to find authenticity, fulfillment, and love.

    A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced characters whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café: Bobby, a gay Southern boy who has been ostracized by his family; Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman whose life is upended when a family secret finally comes to light; and Alice, an African-American chef whose heritage is the basis of a famous cookbook but whose past is a mystery to those who know her.

    As it sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to the Manhattan of the deadly AIDs epidemic of the 1980s to today’s wealthy suburbs, A Place at the Table celebrates the healing power of food and the magic of New York as three seekers come together in the understanding that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole.

    -- I started reading this book, and I was in total heaven. Then we switched characters and I was sad for the loss of the last one. Then halfway through, I could start to see the thread weaving the stories together and I whispered to myself, bloody brilliant!! It was like a little petit four, where you bite into it, get one flavor and then halfway through the bite, something else that is even more divine shines through, and then the last bite really just made it over the top! That is the way this book is! All the characters are so three dimensional, I thought any minute Alice would come through the pages.

    And who doesn't love cooking in a book? Talk about making me drool! At the back, there is a recipe for Mittie Cumbie Wade's Sour Cream Pound Cake, seems to die for! There is also a book discussion and a chat with the author, which I always love, gives the story behind the story.

    This was my FIRST book by Ms White, but it won't be my last! Thank you for such a wonderful read.

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 6, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    3.5 stars Alice and her twin James were inseparable. They knew

    3.5 stars

    Alice and her twin James were inseparable. They knew exactly what each other was thinking at all times. Unfortunately their peaceful world is destroyed when they stumble upon a young man who was hanged and they discover the truth about their family. Flash forward roughly 60 years and Alice has become quite famous as an amazing chef and author. Meanwhile, Bobby has been abandoned by his southern Baptist family, because he is gay. He goes to New York for a fresh start and he finds himself in a quaint café, where he trains to become the head chef. Alice and Bobby share an exquisite palate that allows them to form a profound friendship, despite the harsh realities of the world.

    This book describes the human emotions with every commanding detail, which will surely reach deep within readers’ hearts. Susan Rebecca White divides the book into several sections, organized by the main character’s point of view and the decade. The beginning of Bobby’s story is a bit slow and it is difficult to tell how old he is when his story begins. However readers get the chance to grow along with Bobby, as he learns to accept his homosexuality, deal with his shattered family and his quest to find an accepting God. The ending is very rushed and even though it tries to tie back into the stories of Alice and Bobby, readers will wish the author could have extended the ending. This is a thought-provoking tale of how we are all connected in this seemingly big world.

    Notes:
    This review was written for My Sister’s Books.
    This review originally was posted on Ariesgrl Book Reviews.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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