Book Review: Grand Opening

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Description from Goodreads: Set in western Canada during the roaring nineteen eighties, “Grand Opening” is the tragi-comic tale of three men pursuing the dream of owning a restaurant. 

Wayne Stevens is a near bankrupt entrepreneur looking for a second chance. Rene Lemieux is a hardened businessman seeking another conquest and more profits. Maurice Deshampes is a recovering alcoholic and chef, desperate to be a restaurateur. Together, they form a partnership that will change their lives in ways they did not imagine. 

The launch of a new restaurant and an impetuous attempt to live out their dreams provides the backdrop for Grand Opening. An intricate cascade of fantasies, falsehoods, fabrications, lust, substance abuse, and cock-eyed optimism is served by the terse plot. A race for glory, seasoned with humor and drama inevitably unfolds. 

It’s a wild ride to the Grand Opening.

Book Review: Having read “A Dog and His Boy,” I agreed to review the author’s next book, and in a way, I find they have a bit of a connection. The first one sets up the question of what happens to a man who hardens himself against his emotions and buries guilt and sensitivity beneath a shell, and this novel answers that question, while dealing with a plot, characters, and premise all it’s own.

So here’s a closer look at its Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, World-Building, and my Overall Response.

Narration: Three out of Five. The book gives a great many details to where you can picture, if you want, the exact layout of rooms and the restaurant the three men are renovating, but for me, it was too much detail. I far prefer having a quick, evocative mood presented and then to move on, and I feel that the author did a better job with this in “A Dog and His Boy” than in this book. (Though it could be personal preference: I’d rather hear a great many details about nature than about a building.)

The other weakness in the narration was the amount of telling that goes into the story. We’re told what these characters want, what they hope for, and what they’re planning rather than having the characters put in situations that show exactly who they are.

Content: Three out of Five. There is a lot of swearing in this book, though very little that an American might recognize as such. (The main term used was so French-Canadian I had to look it up to know what it meant and why, exactly, it was a swear word.) Other than that, it’s fairly clean. There is a scene describing partial nudity, but all the more intimate scenes happen “offstage,” to where the reader is told what happened but doesn’t experience the details.

However, I felt like the plot was fairly repetitive, perhaps intentionally to show how life and even eventful moments are made up of humdrum details and cycles of action. There was a lot of cooking and eating and food preparation, and not a lot “happened”…which oddly enough, made me tense. When there was a description of how careful Wayne was painting the wall, for example, I felt like something major was going to happen, and when nothing did, it made me wonder why I was being told about all the details, as though they mattered, when they didn’t. There may be readers who enjoy the details even if nothing comes of them, but to me, it felt like hype that never went anywhere.

Characters: Four out of Five. The characters are the strongest area of the novel, and perhaps that is why I wished we could know them through seeing them in situations that drew them out rather than just being told what they were like. For example, we’re told that Rene envies his friend Richie, but I think it’d be far more interesting to see that in how women treat Richie, how other men treat him, or in some active demonstration of what it is about Richie’s life that Rene wants.

And it was much the same with the other characters. They were strong and believable, but it felt like we were handed their life in a box rather than getting to understand it, layer by layer.

Artwork: Subjective. The cover was very professional, I thought, and I liked all the blue tones. The restaurant looked a little seedy with its neon lights and barred windows, but it fits the fact that its set in a rough neighborhood, and the lone man on the cover is quite appropriate, plot wise. I really felt the cover did a great job reflecting the story inside.

World-Building: Four out of Five. There were plenty of details about what the world of the story was like, from the weather to the people to the fabrics, smells, and textures. I do wish the story spent a little bit more time outside of restaurants and cars, though. The author mentions shopping for things, but when we come in, the characters are back in the car, and I feel a broadening of location for a story of this length would be appropriate (that, or having the story just be a shorter, evocative novella).

Overall Response: 14 out of 20, for a total of 3.5 overall. I think a lot of what I didn’t care for was just artistic choices aimed to give a reader a particular experience rather than just relay the story (which is the one aspect of literary fiction that, while I can appreciate it, I cannot seem to enjoy). But it was a good book, and I’d certainly recommend it to those who enjoy literary fiction and want a story about the struggles of life without a great deal of action, adventure, or romance thrown in to “get in the way.” The author has a distinct style and flavor all his own, and I’m confident that those who enjoyed his first novel will also appreciate “Grand Opening.”

For more book reviews like this, click here.

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo used by permission from the author

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