A rich, beautiful novel about three unlikely, complex characters who meet in a chic Manhattan café and realize they must sacrifice everything they ever knew or cared about to find authenticity, fulfillment, and love.
A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced characters whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café: Bobby, a gay Southern boy who has been ostracized by his family; Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman whose life is upended when a family secret finally comes to light; and Alice, an African-American chef whose heritage is the basis of a famous cookbook but whose past is a mystery to those who know her.
As it sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to the Manhattan of the deadly AIDs epidemic of the 1980s to today’s wealthy suburbs, A Place at the Table celebrates the healing power of food and the magic of New York as three seekers come together in the understanding that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole.
Susan Rebecca White is the author of four novels: Bound South, A Soft Place to Land, A Place at the Table, and the forthcoming We Are All Good People Here, which will be published by Atria / Simon & Schuster on August 6, 2019. A graduate of Brown University and the MFA program at Hollins University, Susan has taught creative writing at Hollins, Emory, SCAD, and Mercer University, where she was the Ferrol A. Sams, Jr. Distinguished Chair of English Writer-in-Residence. Susan lives in her hometown of Atlanta with her husband Sam Reid and their son.
At the end of the day I'm not entirely sure what Ms. White was trying to say with the eloquently written but hollow "A Place at the Table."
The novel follows the meandering and eventually intersecting lives of three very different characters; Alice an African American woman who journey's through a difficult childhood in 1920's North Carolina to find herself a rising culinary star amongst the intellectual elite of New York City, Bobby a young gay man who also arrives from the south entering the vastly changed New York of the 1980's caught in the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and Amelia a socialite trapped in a miserable marriage with family secrets she's not even aware of struggling to find herself in midlife in the early 90's.
White is a powerful, poetic writer and passages in this book are downright moving but I'm bothered by the feeling of not really connecting with what was going on throughout the novel that I was ultimately left with.
There's a certain superficiality to both Alice and Bobby's characters, like they fit the stereotypical molds of "suffering African American woman" and "young gay kid from the south" but lack real substance. Its Amelia's character that is the only one that really rang true for me.
White just doesn't spend enough time with any one of her cast to truly make an impact on the reader, at least this one. Just as one story gets interesting she's off in another decade building on someone else. I was left constantly wanting more, but not in a good way.
There's also the matter of the "intersecting story line" concept which doesn't really work for me either. There's really no connection between these people other than the coincidence of them running into each other in NYC and a frankly contrived and totally out of no where M. Knight Schyamalan "twist" ending that is so out of left field as to be almost absurd.
I think what really bothers me is the parts of this book I liked I really LIKED. I felt the potential to come away from these stories truly changed and then I kept getting the rug yanked out from under me. I should have liked this more than I did.
*edited on August 7th after a friend of the author kindly let me know that she is not a "mom from the south" as I originally stated in my review (I suggested that this was the reason Amelia's character seems more developed than the others) unless we count her dogs!
A Place at the Table was much more than 5 stars – if I could give 10, I would! The story was brilliantly written! If you are from the south you will definitely appreciate.
As a native of NC Bible belt, leaving a small town and narrow-minded ways, relocating to Atlanta years ago, can relate. I loved the mentions of the different parts of Atlanta which are familiar– and oh my Bobby was my favorite character!
The narrator of Bobby via audio was superb- I had to continue going back and listening to the parts once again - he was so charming. You will laugh and cry; everything about this book is epic – from Baptist, the South, NY, racism, and the yummy gourmet cooking and the lifestyle!
The sweetest part of all was the relationship between Bobby from Georgia and his MeeMaw – it was priceless how she took him under her wing when everyone else turned their back on him - and his letters to her. (Ahhhh!)
Three outcasts longing for home come together at Manhattan’s Café Andres, a chic gathering place for New York’s cultural crowd . . . and so yummy! Southern charm meets urban city chic NY.
In summary, this book belongs on the NY Times Bestselling list and would be so fitting for a blockbuster movie. I would highly recommend Rebecca's previous two books: "Bound South" and "A Soft Place to Land", both 5-star quality.
Book lovers craving Southern fiction will need to keep an eye on this talented Atlanta author!
Susan is a terrific writer, and I love how she portrays the south. Her scenes are pitch perfect and could've been pulled from my own family while I was growing up. The great thing about this book is it's not her first, so when you finish, you'll have several more to read.
I remember when we did this photoshoot for Vanity Fair a few years ago. They were profiling Atlanta authors, so it was me, Susan, Emily Giffin, Kitty Stockett, and some other fantastic authors and we got there all excited and they had BALL GOWNS for us to wear (J. Crew, but still). We all just embraced it and ended up having a great time--and gaining new-found respect for models (which none of us are) because it was hard work doing that shoot all day! At least I got to wear my sneakers in between takes! Oh, but about Susan--swear to God, the way they dolled her up she looked like Sandra Bullock's younger sister.
This book combines two of my favorite places, the south(born and raised) and New York city(frequent visitor). I loved recognizing physical landmarks of NYC without it being overdone and I loved recognizing personality characteristics of the south, without it being overdone! How White merges the two places is magical. The relationships are real relationships by real broken people who live life together. Bobby and Meemaw's relationship is so sweet and the letters he writes to her from New York bring tears to your eyes. You have broken people that I think find peace by the end of the book but their stories are far from over. My only complaint at all with the book, I'm blinded with tears the last few pages of the book and then I read the last page and a half and it sobers me. What just happened here? Did not like the whole "Blessings of the Animals" ending. Loved these characters, even Alice once I understood where she was coming from. The title is PERFECT! Highly recommend!!!!
A sweet Chick-lit novel that brings a young gay man from the South, a black female Chef, and a Connecticut socialite together in their respective searches for identity. What defines us? Can an event define us? Should we allow others to define us? How can we belong and with whom do we belong? Each character goes through soul searching to find their place in the world. My favorite character is Bobby, the gay boy born to judgmental Christian parents in 1970’s Georgia. Bobby’s Grandmother, Meemaw, saves him emotionally and physically. Everyone needs a Meemaw in their lives. An interesting cast of characters. Great Chic-lit.
an excellent book that i savored like a fine wine. it was different than i expected, darker and more 'literary', for lack of a better word--more charlotte bronte than jane austen. the cover and a review i'd read led me to expect light summer fare, so if that's what you're looking for, you might want to make another selection. i'm now eager to read white's other books.
I'm between a 3 and 4 here. I liked the story of these 3 characters, but holy cow there was a lot jammed in. I felt it was mostly about Bobby, a southern gay man, but I wanted more about Alice. Alice wrote a famous cookbook and was mysterious to me. Amelia's part was equally as interesting as the other two. I liked how they found solace in each other and the most unlikely, but fitting place. I think forging friendships is the best therapy.
This book was destined for 4 stars (few books get that from me) and a place on my "Keeper" bookshelves until the final 25% of the book, when the author introduced a new character; a foolish, self absorbed, clueless dolt of a woman who was suddenly introduced to tie all the previous characters together.
Bleah. The previous clear writing was obscured by tortured connections and this idiot character.
I gave it 3 stars for the first 3/4 of the book. When you get to the section with Amelia, close the book and write your own ending- it will be a much better read for you.
A beautifully written novel about three different people with very different backgrounds, escaping their troubled lives in the South to New York City. The common element is cooking, and they find each other through a restaurant and a cookbook. Each has their own story, of past issues with who they are and who they become within the book, all coming together at the end. This novel is so well written, with rich imagery and detail in the lives of the characters. Well developed storyline in a convergent style, and a twist at the end that I did not see coming. Highly recommend!!
This book ends up feeling like three very separate stories that all have an intersection but are not necessarily intertwined. I enjoyed reading it and I went through it quickly because I found it engaging, but in the end I don't know who I would recommend it to. The subjects are pretty heavy (AIDS, adultery, racism, etc.) so it may not be for everyone, but it never felt gratuitous so there aren't any major red flags for me.
Alice, Bobby, and Amelia...in New York...living their lives...but it's their past histories that are so riveting.
My thoughts after reading this book...
Lovely lovely lovely book...the words of this author are so beautiful...so touching...so lovely.
Can you tell that I loved this book? The thing about reading so much is that I always think that I love all of the books that I read and I do...but then every once in a while I read a book that is so quietly lovely that I am overwhelmed by it...literally gobsmacked by it...and I am incredulous that I have never read anything by this lovely endearing amazing author before. This is the kind of book where I read about the author and I read the acknowledgements and the preface and I can't get enough of it all!
And in true "Patty Fashion"...I do not go through this book and overanalyze it bit by bit...so not my style. This book is a southern story that takes place mostly in NYC. The three key characters seem to not be connected at all and yet they are...in a most unbelievable way. They each have their sorrows but they also have immense joy. I had a real sense of the South in the early 60's and 70's and a really fantastic sense of NYC then, too.
What I loved about this book...
I loved the relationships...all the good ones and even the bad ones. Bobby and Sebastion, Amelia and Cam, James and his chicken, Alice and Bobby...and so many more...I loved the way the characters continued to sort of link to each other.
Another love? The food descriptions? Meemaw's poundcake, crab cakes, lemon curd on homemade ginger snaps...totally time for shrimp and grits!
What I did not love about this book...
I have to say that when Amelia's part came along near the end of the book...I thought...what is this...but this is the part that brings it all home...and I loved it...of course I did!
This is a memorable book...one that will stay with me for a long time. I want to read more by this author...and soon!
I was a goodreads first reads winner of "A Place at the Table: A Novel. I consider myself lucky to get a chance to read this well written book. It starts in 1929 in North Carolina. Alice and James are brother and sister facing racial prejudices. the witness something horrible. Years later we see the story through Bobby's eyes a young boy growing up in 1970s Georgia, Bobby is homosexual,when his family finds out he is ostracized by all of them but his grandmother. He moves to Manhattan when he hits adulthood.he is a good southern cook and finds a job at a restaurant famous for southern cooking started by Alice who came to Manhattan years ago. Bobby revives the restaurant, faces more heartbreak. Later in the book we read it narrated by Amelia. her marriage is falling apart and facing divorce. she finds comfort in dining at the restaurant "Cafe Andres" run by Bobby when she visits Manhattan with her aunt kate. Alice, Bobby, And Amelia all have known heartbreak and hurt. some have secrets. there is also a cookbook written by Alice that may contain secrets than will unravel for character in this book. don't want to give any spoilers. but there are some really good pay offs involving the characters. a very good read kept me not wanting to put this book down. it also made me hungry to try out some of those "southern" dishes.
Unforgettable. I love this book. A story written in the beautiful style of "To Kill A Mockingbird", my all time favorite book. It's not only a story of understanding and loving people for their differences, but of family...even the kind you assemble yourself.
I especially loved the Southern characters; Bobby, I will love you forever and Alice, you are so strong. The emotions of Bobby really tugged at my heartstrings, for those of us who have always felt different (doesn't matter why)and those who have struggled to fit in...when you read this book you will know why I love it.
The plot took a bit of an odd twist, but gathered up all of the loose ends...I enjoyed that. I can see a follow up book (Ihope!). Please take time to read this book, grab a cup of tea and be prepared to be transported. It's all in the heart.
Thank you, Susan, I want to read your other books now.
This was a free giveaway from Goodreads...what a gift!
PS I loved MeeMaw! Hooray for grandmothers who love their grankids so much it hurts.
This book was a welcome departure from other books I've recently read: it made me feel something.
The lives of three narrators eventually, rather unexpectedly, intertwine and connect. It requires a significant suspension of disbelief to accept this, but it is critical that we do so if we want to allow this book to work its magic. For those of us who love to cook, love to talk about food, and understand the therapeutic powers of sifting, mixing, baking and serving, this book will be particularly meaningful.
It will also touch anyone who has experienced a challenging family dynamic ( and who has not?) A Place at the Table can be quickly read as "a good, well- written story" but it deserves more than that. It offers us a chance to explore our prejudices and our relationships, and perhaps make some changes.
Wow. A beautiful story uniting disparate worlds; a story of how we all fit together even though we may not precisely fit into the worlds into which we are born or even the worlds we choose of our own accord. it is rather amazing that one author can so expertly and genuinely flesh out the wildly different backgrounds of the three principal characters. I recognize those worlds. I grew up in one of them, down the street from another and had my share of experience bumping up against the third. I understand the pain of being unable to return to the world of my origin, even while knowing that I don't want to return there and that I'm much better off in my here and now world. I highly recommend reading this one.
Three very different characters with their own very different secrets. They somehow find each other in New York City, no less. And there's food. Lots of descriptive, mouth watering food. The book begins with a horrifying incident that was hard to forget and I kept waiting for it to resurface. Actually, I did a lot of waiting but in an anticipatory way. I was eager to know how the characters would connect as clues hinted along the way. The story satisfied but utter satisfaction would be some of Bobby's banana pudding!
A Place at the Table is the story of three wonderfully complex characters, and how their stories converge in a historic New York City cafe. Alice, Bobby and Amelia are products of their very different and difficult early days, spending their whole lives searching for peace and personal authenticity. Amid the settings of the deep South and New York, and the comfort of good food and home cooking, I fell in love with all three characters. I rejoiced with them and cried with them, and was so touched by their stories that I never wanted this book to end. This is a terrific book club choice, and I highly recommend it to everyone!
A beautifully written story of 3 characters ( Bobby, Alice and Amelia) trying to find where they belong. I loved Bobby's story-- how he became a chef due to the influence of his Meemaw and transformed the menu at Café Andres. The author tackles some difficult subjects: homosexuality, the AIDS epidemic, race issues and adultery. Yet, the story is shared through recipes, food and a need to belong after family difficulties.
I was so delightfully surprised with this book. I'm sure the title caught my attention. But I was blown away by the story about three people who escape their existences in North Carolina (black woman), Georgia (young homosexual man) and Connecticut (middle-aged suburban housewife) to find richness in their lives in NYC. There is an underlying theme of food including a restaurant, family recipes and cooking techniques. I can't imagine anyone not embracing this novel!
Just finished this and loved it - the story of how a young gay man shunned from his family in Atlanta, a black woman who suffers from racial prejudice, and a Connecticut housewife whose husband leaves her all end up becoming the unlikeliest of families. It's a great story, I read it in 2 days. You won't want to put it down.
This was an ok read. The story and characters were both easy to imagine and the story very believable. I love the fact that at the end of the book, everything came to a full circle and every character was in someway related or introduced to one another. This was the first selection for Cover Girls Book Club
I started and stopped this book several times before finally committing to it earlier in March. It's slow to get going, nothing before the first 50 or so pages grabbed me as a reader. The main character*, Bobby, moves to NYC in the early 80s. He's gay and it's NYC in the 80s and I was completely hooked by his experience, including landing a kitchen job in a famed, but hidden, cafe. Here was the book I was promised when I heard a small review on NPR.
There were recipes and descriptions of southern cooking, Bobby finds love, loses love as so many did in the late 80s and early 90s. I was completely invested in Bobby.
Without warning, without foreshadowing, without much but a brief, and wholly forgettable moment at a dinner party, suddenly the story shifts to 1989 and Connecticut and I'm thrust into Amelia's crumbling marriage. Bobby disappears until the very last pages, relegated to a secondary character and the whole story is now Amelia's life of lies.
I've read plenty of books where character's lives are connected through space and time, I actually enjoy that type of storytelling. And this wasn't completely unredeemable. The author tried valiantly to make it all seem like this was where she was taking the reader by the end, but the last 50 or so pages felt rushed, as though she needed to quickly get the rest of the story into the 309 pages because her editor told her it couldn't be any longer or it wouldn't get published.
I am somewhere between a 3 and a 4 on this one. A beautifully written story about 3 very different people during different decades. While I usually prefer a book with alternating storylines and POV's, this was written in large chunks about one character and then abruptly stopping and switching gears to another character. The prologue was about Alice and her brother James in NC in 1929. I won't give anything away but talk about foreshadowing! You already know the 3 storylines are going to come together but how? Well, with a cookbook and a restaurant, of course! Alice is a rising culinary star in NYC after a difficult childhood in NC. Bobby, a young gay man living in NYC after his troubled childhood in GA, finds his way into Café Andres where Alice was a part owner/chef. And Amelia is a recently divorced socialite from CT who has distant ties to the past but doesn't even know it until she finds her way into the café. A bit of a stretch? Perhaps. I thought the writing was very good. I loved the attention to detail and the rich imagery of the south. I'm not a southerner, but I have lived here 11 years, and this is exactly how I picture it. Maybe they are stereotypes but it seemed spot on to me. :)
Another richly detailed novel by White, who is talented when it comes to defining her characters and is particularly good at creating a sense of locale. For me, this novel falls just short of five stars because at times I found it confusing to follow the narratives of the three main characters: Amelia, Bobby, and Alice.
White seems to be attracted to big, historical issues in our society. In We Are All Good People Here, the lives of the main characters played out against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. In this novel, the reader witnesses the effects of the AIDS epidemic and homophobia on the characters and their relationships to one another. The twist at the end was interesting, but it felt a little too neatly done, to me.
I enjoyed the focus on cooking, recipes, and cookbooks. I think certain restaurants definitely have personalities that reflect their communities. It has been painful to see how the COVID pandemic has affected our enjoyment of restaurants. I recommend this novel!
I loved everything about this book. Allow me to expand on this review.
1) The writing is SO good, I literally had to put this book down in my lap every 20 minutes or so just to revel in how good the literature was. I more than just read this book, I felt it with every fiber of my being. I fell in love with the characters (well, at least Bobby and Alice).
2) I read another review of this that asked the question: what is the point? what is the author trying to get at? The name says it all. This is about 3 very different, distinct characters that simply need a place to belong; a place at the table.
3) FOOD! This book is centered around food and the kitchen. It could have been a book about the ABC's and because of the food, I still would have loved it. The culinary world has it's own culture, and there is a clear culture around gathering friends and family around a kitchen. This book illustrated that culture perfectly. I love everything about food except maybe the calories.
I rarely read a book I can't predict. This book was an amazing exception. I did not like character 1 introduced in the prologue. Character 2 was ok. I liked him more and more as he grew. Character 2 was developed so much I kept wondering what about character 1. & there is supposed to be a 3rd. Where is the 3rd? Only then did I realize I had focused on the wrong character 1. 2 characters were in the story. The 3rd was there too. One I thought was insignificant until she was the one who tied everyone, including my incorrectly chosen character 1, together.
I really enjoyed this beautifully written story of three main characters and how they found themselves (and each other) in New York. The story seemed to end abruptly for each, then pick up much later, but I truly enjoyed it.