MARRYING THE KETCHUPS by Jennifer Close 

From the publisher:

An irresistible comedy of manners about three generations of a Chicago restaurant family and the deep-fried, beer-battered, cream cheese-frosted love that feeds them all—from the best-selling author of Girls in White Dresses

Here are the three things the Sullivan family knows to be true: the Chicago Cubs will always be the underdogs; historical progress is inevitable; and their grandfather, Bud, founder of JP Sullivan’s, will always make the best burgers in Oak Park. But when, over the course of three strange months, the Cubs win the World Series, Trump is elected president, and Bud drops dead, suddenly everyone in the family finds themselves doubting all they hold dear.

Take Gretchen for example, lead singer for a ’90s cover band who has been flirting with fame for a decade but is beginning to wonder if she’s too old to be chasing a childish dream. Or Jane, Gretchen’s older sister, who is starting to suspect that her fitness-obsessed husband who hides the screen of his phone isn’t always “working late.” And then there’s Teddy, their steadfast, unfailingly good cousin, nursing heartbreak and confusion because the guy who dumped him keeps showing up for lunch at JP Sullivan’s where Teddy is the manager. How can any of them be expected to make the right decisions when the world feels sideways—and the bartender at JP Sullivan’s makes such strong cocktails?

Outrageously funny and wickedly astute, Marrying the Ketchups is a delicious confection by one of our most beloved authors.

“Close…drops readers smack into Oak Park, a leafy Chicago suburb, and lets them hear the hiss of fryers hitting hot oil and catch an ice-cold Old Style sliding across the bar… Close lets each character’s unique personality shine. Fans of Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennans and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising will fall in love with these maddening, loving, stubborn relatives. Setting nostalgia against progress, tradition against rebirth, Close outlines the cousins’ grief and personal growth as they work with, and against, one another.” —Booklist, starred review

“[An] amusing, engaging novel about life, death, and the restorative power of a grilled cheese sandwich… Well-drawn characters always keep you interested in what happens next. Close navigates their entanglements and dissolutions with wry humor: She understands the difficulties and distractions of modern romance. As Jane, Gretchen, and Teddy struggle to find their footing, the close-knit Oak Park neighborhood is changing, too. But is that so terrible? Like marrying the ketchups, a long-standing kitchen task now deemed unsanitary, traditions can adapt to a new world order. Just like the Sullivans. An entertaining family story with realistic, interesting characters.” —Kirkus

https://amzn.to/3FqJbtt

I’ve had this book for quite a while (it came out in April) and it’s another that was lost on my Kindle. Then two good friends recommended it so I dug it up. I struggled with this book, it took me about a week to get through it, and when I turned the last page, my first thought was “what a stupid book.” I’m sorry, but that’s my truth.

There are a lot of characters, none of which is a main character or protagonist as a few vie for that title. The big events that define the book – the Cubs winning the World Series, Trump getting elected, and the family patriarch dying, are really on the periphery of this story. The Sullivan family owns a bar/restaurant and that is the thing that ties them together. I just never felt invested in these characters or their lives, and without that, I struggled.

This is literary fiction, and the writing is fine if not a bit dull, and the story is definitely character driven without a whole lot of plot. I wasn’t always a fan of the choices these characters made and I never really felt like I got to know these people. There are some funny moments, which were enjoyable. And for readers who don’t understand the title reference, for years restaurants that served (usually) Heinz ketchup via a bottle on the table, would, at the end of the day, combine half empty bottles and refill the rest so they would have full bottles on every table. Apparently, this is not the most sanitary practice, so I’m not sure if restaurants still do that or not.

Regular readers of this site know that I struggle with negative reviews. I’ve reached the point in my life where if I hate a book, I put it down and don’t finish it or review it. I didn’t hate this book, it just felt mediocre to me. All in all, not my favorite.

11/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MARRYING THE KETCHUPS by Jennifer Close. Knopf (April 26, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0525658870. 320p.

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