Sunday, November 26, 2017

Robin Sloan's New One - Sourdough

Sourdough reminds me of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.  Or in this case, A Tale of Two Halves.  I thought the 1st half was amazing.  So much so, in fact, that I was thinking 4+/4.  And that went on for a while.  But the 2nd half took a big dip for me.  I can't really explain why.  Maybe my expectations, based on the 1st half, were simply too high.  Regardless, it just didn't measure up.  Despite all of that, I still enjoyed it.  There was a point where I was comparing Robin's writing to both Amor Towles (The Gentleman of Moscow) and Pat Conroy (every book).  Let me give you some examples:

"The sky above the Crowley parking lot was gray and drippy like the undercarriage of a car." (now that's a simile)
"Greatest among us are those who can deploy 'my friend' to total strangers in a way that is not hollow,  but somehow real and deeply felt; those who can make you, within seconds of first contact, believe it."

And Robin definitely mixes in some humor:

"...fries not merely consumed but circulated as social currency; peace offerings, seductions."
"I felt the disorientation of a generous offer that in no way lines up with anything you want to do: like a promotion to senior alligator wrestler, or an all-expenses paid trip to Gary, Indiana."
How about the dough starter called Clint Yeastwood?
And then there's the pathway through the market called the "yellow-tape road."

Of course there are sentences that make me think of programs and places that I know - e.g. Project Runway, Chez Panisse, and Scientology (are you watching Leah Remini's expose on A&E? it's amazing).

So it's not that the book wasn't well-written, because it definitely was.  It was just the story itself that disappointed me as it went along.  Let me say, though, that the ratings on Goodreads (3.82/5) and Amazon (4.4/5) definitely go counter to what I'm telling you.  I will be the 1st to admit that I might be a little too critical.  But I gotta give it to you as I see it.

Whoops.  Forgot to tell you what the book is about:

Lois Clary is a software programmer at General Dexterity, a robotics company with typical San Franciscan world-changing ambitions.  She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders, and savors, dinner every evening.  Then, disaster!  Visa issues.  The brothers close up shop, and fast.  But they have one last delivery for Lois; their culture, the sourdough starter brought from afar, used to bake their bread.  She must keep it alive, they tell her - feed it daily, play it music, and please, please: learn to bake with it.
Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms.  Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she's providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria.  The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmers market.  A whole new world opens up.
When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with little appetite for new members.  Then an alternative emerges: a secret market, literally underground, that aims to fuse food and technology.  It might be perfect for the programmer-turned-baker.  But who are these people, exactly?  And who is the mysterious Mr. Marrow presiding over it all?

People, I am still recommending this book.  If you agree with my assessment, then it is worth it just for the 1st half.  If, on the other hand, you don't agree with me, and you really like the 2nd half, then you will be extremely happy you read the whole thing.  I hope, for your sake, that it's "If" #2.


  1. Lloyd, this is such a fair review. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Mary. It's tough to be critical when you know the author! But a reviewer has to do what a reviewer does.

  2. I'm on the fence about trying this one in general. I was only partially succesful with Mr. Penumbra. lol

    1. Despite the 2nd half dip, I liked this one a little bit more than Penumbra.

  3. I read another review of Sourdough today and they called it "whimsical." Between the two of you, I want to give it a try.

    1. I don't know if I've ever used the word "whimsical" in any of my reviews! But I think it's pretty accurate in this case.