Book World: Wit is baked into Robin Sloan's delicious 'Sourdough'


Sourdough

By Robin Sloan

MCD/FSG. 259 pp. $26

---

Robin Sloan's 2012 bestseller, "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore," is a witty paean to both vintage and digital media in Silicon Valley. "Sourdough," his new novel, stays close to that setting, and once again, the tale features a clash between old and new technologies -- in this case within the food industry. The result is delicious fun.

The narrator, Lois Clary, writes code for General Dexterity, a company that manufactures industrial-use robotic arms. At first, she feels that she's found her place in the corporate world. "Here's a thing I believe about people my age: We are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted." But Lois soon admits she's miserable. Her apartment is tiny. Her hair is falling out. She has few friends, only colleagues who, like herself, mostly subsist on a disgusting, "fully dystopian" nutritive gel called Slurry.

Salvation arrives in the form of a takeout menu. Clement Street Soup and Sourdough sells three items: Spicy Soup, a Spicy Sandwich and a double spicy Combo. It's run by two siblings from a mysterious culture known as the Mazg: Beoreg takes the phone orders, and his brother, Chaiman, delivers them. Their soup is always accompanied by miraculously restorative sourdough bread. "That bread was the secret of the whole operation," Sloan writes. "Beoreg baked it himself every day. That bread was life.”

Heartbroken when the brothers abruptly leave the Bay Area, Lois comforts herself with their parting gift: a crock of sourdough starter. She teaches herself to bake, with delicious if perplexing results. Pinprick lights glow in the starter. It begins to sing Mazg melodies that she recognizes from Chaiman's CDs. The finished loaves have faces on them ... .

Lois's bread becomes hugely popular, of course, first in the Dexterity cafeteria, then at a utopian farmers market called Marrow Fair, located in the munitions depot of a decommissioned naval base. Marrow Fair's earnest young adherents deal in products like Chernobyl honeyand cheese made by Agrippa, who hasn't showered in a year and lectures Lois on the symbiotic relationship between humans and microbes. Video conferences are overseen by a talking fish who denounces both industrialization and the farm-to-table movement. 

Add a legendary food activist (think Alice Waters), runaway microbes and a robotic arm, and you get a novel as oddly delectable as its namesake. My only mild disappointment was that I couldn't eat my copy.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Cooking and Recipes

Barcelona Wine Bar employee killed during robbery at restaurant
Barcelona Wine Bar employee killed during robbery at restaurant

A woman died after a robbery in which she was shot, police said. An employee of Barcelona Wine Bar Westside was shot and killed during a robbery at early Sunday morning, and three suspects are on run, according to police. Chelsea Beller, 29, of Atlanta was shot in the shoulder after being forced to open a safe in the upstairs...
There soon will be new ways to know if your wine is environment friendly 
There soon will be new ways to know if your wine is environment friendly 

More and more of us are looking beyond the wine in our glass and demanding to know how the wine is made. Whether we want wines that are "natural," biodynamic, organic or sustainable, increasingly we want to know that winemakers are doing their best to protect the environment and not relying on chemicals to ripen their grapes. And the wine...
Blending can help you learn what you like
Blending can help you learn what you like

Sitting in a room full of wine barrels, winemakers and sommeliers seemed like a dream come true until such terms as “sub-appellations,” “malolactic fermentation” and “diurnal fluctuation” started being bandied about with abandon. It was like I had landed on an island where the natives speak a different language,...
African spice a key ingredient in ‘Power Lunch’ salad
African spice a key ingredient in ‘Power Lunch’ salad

From the menu… The National, 232 W. Hancock Ave., Athens. 706-549-3450. thenationalrestaurant.com A friend and I made the trip from Atlanta to Athens to shop at Plantapalooza at the Trial Gardens at the University of Georgia and to have lunch at The National. The “Power Lunch” was delicious. Is it possible they’ll share the...
Use fresh ginger in shrimp sambal
Use fresh ginger in shrimp sambal

You expect ginger to be growing in tropical climates like Hawaii and Southeast Asia. And for many years, any ginger you could buy here was from those locations. But in the past dozen or so years, farmers in metro Atlanta have been growing ginger, first as an experimental crop and now, with more years of experience, as a standard part of their farm...
More Stories