Wearing his poetry M.F.A. and a passion for food on his sleeve, Frank (Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer), a creative writing instructor, takes the reader on an overwhelming whirlwind tour of America, whipping up a free-verse food essay for each of the 50 states. Each piece includes a recipe for a signature dish, a rambling history, and a rushing river of imagery and second-person perspective. In Arkansas, he creates beaver tail bouillon and writes from the point of view of a beaver: “You wonder if, after eating your own tail, their hearts fall to the middles of their bodies.” In Ohio, Cincinnati, chili is the key ingredient in Gold Star mini meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato icing. Frank considers the state’s importance in regard to heirloom tomatoes, and feels compelled to opine, “Ohio: just another state that begins with a cry of surprise, or pain.” The New York bagel, ripe with potential metaphor, never stands a chance. It is called everything from “an eye swollen shut,” to “Homer and Aristotle finally compromising on the shape of the earth.” Frank’s feast isn’t so much mad as madcap, trying to do too many things at once. (Nov.)
The Mad Feast is the ideal gift for your closest traveling companion, a self-guided tour crafted with a native’s intuition and panache…. Using quirky historical anecdotes that echo a nation’s motley coming-of-age, Frank has found a way to serve each state’s beating heart on a platter. At turns spunky, wise, and melancholic, The Mad Feast is essential reading material for your next cross-country road trip."
"This is potent stuff, a demi-glace, if you will, that has been reduced down, unnecessary words struck from the page to offer prose akin to poetry, dense and evocative…. A bravado performance…. [
The Mad Feast] is a very good book, and one that provides the sense of literary adventure that struck me when I first read the opening lines of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer…. Mr. Frank is not ‘mad’ as the title might imply, nor is he perversely calculating. He feels his way along his travels and connects one notion to another until he develops a literary skein that vibrates with passion. That, I suppose, is a pretty good definition of writing, the good kind."
Wall Street Journal - Mr. Kimball
"This crazy culinary cruise through America is as messy and wonderful as Iowa's Loosemeat Sandwich. …This is no cookbook with practical recipes or a patronizing tour of backwoods eateries, but a meditation on our nation's strange history that stares up at us from the plate, as tart as a Key lime and dense as Mississippi Mud Pie."
"It is the off-the-wall blend of memoir, travel, history and fiction that makes the book unique. This is the cookbook David Foster Wallace might have written…. If you enjoyed J. Ryan Stradal’s
Kitchens of the Great Midwest and appreciate the style of writers like Geoff Dyer, Maggie Nelson and Will Self, this should be your next food-themed read."
BookTrib.com - Rebecca Foster
"Never has a country-spanning food romp felt this subversive. Frank’s essays—which dissect signature dishes from all 50 states—are nothing short of brilliant…. [A]n exploration of humanity, life, and tastes, the book is delicious. A-"
"Matthew Gavin Frank’s
The Mad Feast is like a baby who wants to learn the world by putting everything in its mouth. If eating means bringing everything we’re not into our bodies, then this book—rich, exuberant, unexpected—explores how we’re contained within everything we bring into ourselves. It’s messy and playful; it pushes association to the brink of absurdity and then sits at that border, munching on a slice of cake or spooning some chowder. Every chapter reads less like reportage and more like incantation, assembling from local materials the particular ingredients necessary to cast a singular spell."
"[A] raucous gastro-crawl through regional American cuisine."
The Paris Review Daily - Jeffery Gleaves
The Mad Feast, Matthew Gavin Frank is our Merry Prankster of literary food writing, taking his readers on a mind-bending trip through the pork-belly of America. Lush, exuberant, and manically associative, this book is so much more than a collection of recipes (but it is that, too); it’s an ecstatic and essayistic exploration of culture, community, history, and philosophy. I could not put it down, and I keep going back for more."
Buckle up foodies, it's going to be a bumpy ride! Frank (Preparing the Ghost) has collected 50 recipes from the 50 states, but the food is just the jumping-off point for essays that sometimes read like poetry and sometimes like prose. This is not your average culinary tour. Yes, some of the expected dishes (cheesesteaks, key lime pie, deep-dish pizza) are here with their colorful histories, but Frank consistently explores the theme of violence, as expressed not only in food and hunger but also in familial relationships, the meaning of work, and the subjugation involved in nation building. Mashed in with historical facts about each state and its representative dish is information about various animals, towns, and bygone industries. Together they read as an elegy for the American Dream, if it ever actually existed. You may never enjoy your regional favorite in the same way again. The recipes are culled from original sources and vary considerably in style, yield and ease, but that just adds to the wild mix. VERDICT For those who like their food writing literary and personal, rather than authoritative. Best to be read in small doses, this is a unique, fascinating offering.—Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI
A journey in search of America's tastes. Frank (Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer, 2014, etc.), a former restaurant worker, eats his way across the United States with a few questions in mind: "What does a typical foodstuff associated with said state mean? How do state and history and foodstuff relate?" His "spastic, lyrical anti-cookbook" devotes a chapter to each state, a collage of impressionistic fragments that are alternately interesting and exasperating: personal anecdotes, history, geography, botany, zoology, food lore—and ending with a recipe. In Oregon, for example, besides relating the creation of the hybrid Marionberry, beloved by Oregonians, the author considers cannibalism, inspired by his discovery that the state's motto was written by a settler whose wagon train companions headed for California, doomed to become the infamous Donner Party. Among myriad other historical details, readers will learn that Rhode Island was named by the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano because he believed it resembled the island of Rhodes. Enough water pours over Niagara Falls every minute to make 640 million cups of coffee. New Mexico's official state butterfly is named the Sandia hairstreak for its "zippy flight." As for food, in South Carolina, where "racist white men…make the state's best barbecue sauce," the author finds perloo—"sister to jambalaya, brother to pilaf, cousin to paella, to risotto, biryani"—based on rice imported, along with slaves, from Africa. In Iowa, Frank extols the Loosemeat Sandwich, which, unlike a hamburger, "begins its life closer to being chewed and swallowed," an appropriate dish for a landscape often chewed up by tornadoes. Boiled bread, a bagel expert tells the author, began in the Middle Ages, when Jews were forbidden to bake dough. During the Black Death, they strung boiled bread rings onto rope and fled the pestilence. Although Frank's riffs occasionally recall Gertrude Stein's dizzyingly obscure Tender Buttons, overall, he's produced a surprising, entertaining look at what Americans eat and why.