A Place at the Table
In Susan Rebecca White’s A Place at the Table, her third novel, a passion for cuisine serves to unite people and to save them. It opens with a shocking experience told from the point of view of a young North Carolina girl in 1929 and how that experience fragments her family. White then moves to the point of view of another child. This time, it is a young Georgia boy, Bobby, whose closeness to his mother unravels as his sexual orientation begins to emerge, leaving only this young boy’s grandmother as his strongest ally.
If part one makes us empathize with Bobby’s estrangement from his family, part two gives an equally empathetic portrayal of a naïve homosexual’s awakening in New York City in the 1980s: the loneliness and the threat of AIDS. Bobby finds another kind of passion as a chef in a café that once hosted the literary and entertainment stars of post-World-War-II America, thanks in part to a famous African-American chef and partner: Alice Stone. Though Stone had left the café before Bobby’s arrival, the other partner becomes a mentor to Bobby’s emerging talent.
White then switches to Amelia, a Connecticut mother who has just seen her two daughters established in distant schools, only to discover her ne’er-do-well husband has been having an affair with a new neighbor. Divorce brings her to New York City, where her path crosses with Bobby and Alice who have, since the end of the 1980s, become close friends. Amelia becomes the catalyst that brings the story full circle, back to that shocking experience Alice had as a young girl in North Carolina. This is a satisfying story of how three lives represent both the worst of America’s past and the hope for America’s future, in three very different but engaging voices.