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In a restaurant family, you're never hungry; you're starving to death. And you're never full; you're stuffed. When you read Patricia Volk's wonderful memoir about her restaurant family, I can guarantee you won't be bored: You'll just be hungry -- no, starving -- for more.
Full of energy, love, and a few recipes (Mattie's Steak, Morgen's Seasoning Salt, and Mattie's Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Icing), Stuffed portrays the key moments in the lives of the Liebans, the Morgens, and the Volks, a New York Jewish family, from the turn of the century to the present.
An elegant writer, with two short-story collections to her credit, Volk chronicles the life of her family, not in any particular historical order but by family member, with several chapters apiece devoted to her father, mother, and sister. (This structure works so well you want to pass a law requiring all memoirs to do the same.) And how she can write. Here's a taste: "Our hallway was the color of ballpark mustard. The living room was cocoa, my mother's wall-to-wall, iceberg green. The floor of the lobby was maroon-and-white terrazzo like Genoa salami. When our elevator went self-service, the wood was replaced by enameled walls that looked like Russian dressing, the lumpy pink kind our housekeeper, Mattie, made by lightly folding Hellmann's mayonnaise into
Heinz ketchup with a fork."
Compared to Volk's full-of-life family, most of our families look a little colorless. Every one of her relatives seemed to have an unusual claim to fame. Consider the following:
Everyone in the family galaxy was a star in some way, including Aunt Gertie who had perfect posture, Uncle Hank who tried to escape the Nazis on skis, and Granny Ethel who "braked with such finesse it was impossible to tell the moment the car went from moving to a stop." Did I forget Aunt Ruthie? She made the front page of the New York Daily News after she was held hostage at gunpoint for seven hours by a maniac who ate all her plums and three nectarines before the police secured her release in exchange for two cigarettes.
- Great-grandfather Sussman brought pastrami to the New World.
- Great-uncle Albert was the first man to stir scallions into cream cheese.
- Grandfather Herman, who went on to have 14 restaurants, was the first man to carve roast beef in a restaurant window.
- Grandfather Jacob Volk built his house on the land he won in a card game from Mayor Jimmy Walker.
- Her mother was a look-alike for Lana Turner.
- And her handsome father actually invented the Six-Color Rectractable Pen and Pencil Set.
The publisher's blurb on this book says that being with this family is "a trip to the spa, a balm to the soul, a double martini." Readers don't always trust blurbs, for good reason, but guess what? This time, it's absolutely right.
(Fall 2001 Selection)
This funny, heartbreaking book is good enough to eat. A whole lost world is conjured up here, with a vitality and love of daily life that has no time for sentimentality.
Stuffed is a marvelously evocative portrait of a nearly lost New York sensibility. Reading it made me miss my grandmother and the lunch counters of my childhood. Patricia Volk's sharp, personal memoir is a celebration of family characters who could inhabit the fictions of Philip Roth or Saul Bellow. And like the very best sort of novel, Stuffed is both hilarious and deeply moving.
What Marcel Proust did for the madeleine, Patricia Volk has achieved for Mattie's chocolate cake, Morgen's seasoning salt, Grandma's chicken fricassee–and Patricia Volk provides the recipes. This inspired journal through family history, as Proust's masterpiece, treats the reader to the re-creation of an era, with brilliantly observed details of dress, menu, manners, commerce and psychological mishigas. Cheers for Stuffed, a four star, gourmet memoir.
A moving feast. Volk's life is an entertaining dinner party with hilarious guests around the table, and for the main course: the most beautiful and passionate account of a woman's love for her father that I have ever read.
Had I only known what was for dinner at Patty Volk's house, back when we were classmates at P.S. 9, I surely would have followed her home from school. Stuffed is a hilarious but fearless look at a fascinating family–a funny book that will break your heart.
In Patty Volk's inimitable memoir, eccentricity is the norm, food is as abundant as love, and every family member is an adorable lunatic. Stuffed is that perfect literary meal: it leaves you utterly satisfied, yet hungry for more.
In a restaurant family "[y]ou're never full, you're stuffed," says Volk (White Light). But her delightful memoir is not so much about food as about family "your very own living microcosm of humanity, with its heroes and victims and martyrs and failures, beauties and gamblers, hawks and lovers, cowards and fakes, dreamers, its steamrollers, and the people who quietly get the job done." In a series of vignettes remarkable for their humor and insight, she portrays her father's father, Jacob Volk, who invented the wrecking ball and made a fortune in the demolition business; her mother's father, Herman Morgen, who opened a sandwich shop on Broadway and eventually owned 14 restaurants in New York City; and her mother, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. There's plenty of eccentricity Uncle Al slept with Aunt Lil for 11 years, then didn't want to marry her because she wasn't a virgin; Aunt Ruthie gave a burglar who took her hostage in her Bronx apartment a meal and a lecture. But the real charm of the book is in Volk's evocative descriptions of everyday life in a Jewish family in New York. She works magic with such mundane subjects as a visit to Uncle Al the endodontist, dieting, the housekeeper's cleaning habits, her parents' decision to be cremated. A short description of a sleepover at her grandparents' house speaks pages about Herman Morgen and his wife, Polly; Aunt Ruthie's speech patterns are immortalized in a few choice sentences; a disquisition on handkerchiefs and "hankie behavior" is a small masterpiece. This bighearted book will make readers want to look at their own families with fresh eyes. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) Forecast: Expect healthy sales, especially with a first serial inO. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Volk comes from a fascinating family: one member created an innovative way of demolishing skyscrapers; another brought pastrami to the United States; and many helped in the restaurant business. Each chapter of this audiobook is named for a specific food related to a family member, or, in the case of chocolate cake, the maid who helped raise Volk and her sister, Joanne. Listeners will be able to see the love and respect the author has for her family and her heritage. Those looking for a tale of the business or for recipes will have to look elsewhere. Reader Barbara Rosenblat starts out slowly but eventually warms to her task. Several things mar this presentation, however: a large chunk of the first and last cassettes contains reviews of the book; the dust jacket description is repeated at the beginning and at the end of the production; instead of having Rosenblat announce the start and end of tapes, there is an annoying female voice that jars; and, finally, the packaging is very flimsy and will not last in the library for more than a few checkouts. That said, this audiobook will find a home in Jewish history, New York history, and biography collections.-Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
: “Taut, sharp... Vibrantly textured. . . . Volk has a gift for seeing the world in a grain of salt.” —The New York Times Book Review
“This funny, hearbreaking book is good enough to eat. A whole lost world is conjured up here, with a vitality and love of daily life that has no time for sentimentality.” –Philip Lopate
“My nominee for Book of the Year. . . It’s funny, it’s affecting, it’s wise, it’s New York, it’s close to the bone, it’s wonderfully well-written. Above all, it’s about how a real family functions." –Michael M. Thomas, The New York Observer
"The message of Volk's loopy, generous memoir, Stuffed, is that there is no such thing as too much food or too much feeling. . . . Stuffed is just what a good restaurant meal should be–soaked in atmosphere, full of strong flavors, handsome on the plate." —Los Angeles Times
“Unnervingly delightful. . . . In these gorgeous, generous pages . . . the sweetness never ends. ” –The Miami Herald