Friday, April 04, 2008

Turning Tables by Heather and Rose MacDowell

Turning Tables by Heather and Rose MacDowell
By Shannon O’Connor

The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
April 2008

Turning Tables was left behind at the Bagel Bards at Au Bon Pain one Saturday mornng as a joke. “We’re going to start doing chick lit books,” was received to dubious laughter. Almost everyone left and the lonely book was abandoned on the table. The few stragglers picked it up, and I decided I would read it, even though I had never dipped my toes into the chick lit sea before, but I was ready to take the plunge.

Erin Edwards, the heroine of the novel, loses her job in marketing, and a family friend gives her a recommendation to work in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. She has no experience in fine dining, but she tries to fake knowledge of food, wine and service.

The characters are extremely one dimensional: there’s the gay waiter/ aspiring actor, the nursing student who works at the restaurant at night, the lifetime waiter, the nasty Italian manager who doesn’t speak proper English, and of course, the crazy cooks.

The dialogue is stilted. The characters say things that should have been said already. At a private party at which Erin serves, a mother says to her daughter, “Look at me when I’m talking to you. There are three decent schools in Manhattan and you’ve blown through two of them.”

I kept reading, not because the characters were interesting or they had something to say, but because the story and plot were fast and intriguing. Erin was always getting into some kind of mishap at work. She had a fling with a guy just because she thought he was hot. And the fate of the restaurant was always in her hands. The managers couldn’t stand her, because she was not quick enough. She despised working there, and she felt ashamed that she had fallen from a professional job to waiting tables. She was embarrassed to tell people she met that she was a waitress. She went to an upscale party with her boyfriend and she felt “like a maid in her mistress’s clothes.”

Even though the book is chick lit, it deals with certain issues about class in America. Of course it is possible for the upper middle class to "fall" to working class, especially in the economic turmoil our country faces now. The character Erin was making a good salary in marketing and eating at the best restaurant in Manhattan, then she lost her job and became a waitress. She felt embarrassed. There shouldn’t be a reason to feel embarrassed about having a job and doing it well. She didn’t do her job well, but she improved as the book wore on, and she didn’t crack under pressure. Serving people could make anyone break, but survival is the goal. I survived this book and came out unscathed, but I don’t know if I’d swim in the chick lit sea again.

*Shannon O'Connor is a recent graduate of U/Mass Boston, and works at Starbucks on Beacon Hill.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:51 PM

    From the Boston Globe Sunday Book Review 4/13:

    "Turning Tables" ought to be required reading for restaurant reviewers and lousy tippers. It's the work of identical twins Heather and Rose MacDowell. Together, the MacDowells have more than 10 years of experience waiting tables at some of the best (and worst) restaurants in Manhattan, San Francisco, and Nantucket. They've put in the time, they've suffered, they've taken notes, and "Turning Tables" is the entertaining result.

    When 28-year-old Erin Edwards is downsized from her marketing job, a family friend offers to use his influence to get her a job as a waiter at Roulette, one of Manhattan's most avant-garde new restaurants, the kind of place that charges big money for heirloom tomato-flavored foam. Erin's only restaurant experience was a brief stint in a fast-food chowder house, so she's unprepared, to put it mildly, for Roulette. The first night on the job is a disaster, but she manages to get through it with the help of a sympathetic co-worker, Cato. But worse is to come. The chef is hot-tempered and egomaniacal. The owner is mercurial and cruel. The owner's wife is impossible. Erin's co-workers are laying odds she won't last more than a week. And there are the customers, who expect slavish perfection for their money.

    Erin perseveres, takes all sorts of abuse from the kitchen and customers, and comes back for more. Along the way, there's sex with a sous-chef, drinking, drugging, and all the other bad behavior Anthony Bourdain celebrated - if that's the right word - in "Kitchen Confidential." Erin's hard-won confidence falters when she starts dating a customer, a TV producer. She feels socially inferior because she's a waiter. "Turning Tables" is smart and painfully funny, and has the unmistakable ring of authenticity.