Book World: Wit is baked into Robin Sloan's delicious 'Sourdough'


Sourdough

By Robin Sloan

MCD/FSG. 259 pp. $26

---

Robin Sloan's 2012 bestseller, "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore," is a witty paean to both vintage and digital media in Silicon Valley. "Sourdough," his new novel, stays close to that setting, and once again, the tale features a clash between old and new technologies -- in this case within the food industry. The result is delicious fun.

The narrator, Lois Clary, writes code for General Dexterity, a company that manufactures industrial-use robotic arms. At first, she feels that she's found her place in the corporate world. "Here's a thing I believe about people my age: We are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted." But Lois soon admits she's miserable. Her apartment is tiny. Her hair is falling out. She has few friends, only colleagues who, like herself, mostly subsist on a disgusting, "fully dystopian" nutritive gel called Slurry.

Salvation arrives in the form of a takeout menu. Clement Street Soup and Sourdough sells three items: Spicy Soup, a Spicy Sandwich and a double spicy Combo. It's run by two siblings from a mysterious culture known as the Mazg: Beoreg takes the phone orders, and his brother, Chaiman, delivers them. Their soup is always accompanied by miraculously restorative sourdough bread. "That bread was the secret of the whole operation," Sloan writes. "Beoreg baked it himself every day. That bread was life.”

Heartbroken when the brothers abruptly leave the Bay Area, Lois comforts herself with their parting gift: a crock of sourdough starter. She teaches herself to bake, with delicious if perplexing results. Pinprick lights glow in the starter. It begins to sing Mazg melodies that she recognizes from Chaiman's CDs. The finished loaves have faces on them ... .

Lois's bread becomes hugely popular, of course, first in the Dexterity cafeteria, then at a utopian farmers market called Marrow Fair, located in the munitions depot of a decommissioned naval base. Marrow Fair's earnest young adherents deal in products like Chernobyl honeyand cheese made by Agrippa, who hasn't showered in a year and lectures Lois on the symbiotic relationship between humans and microbes. Video conferences are overseen by a talking fish who denounces both industrialization and the farm-to-table movement. 

Add a legendary food activist (think Alice Waters), runaway microbes and a robotic arm, and you get a novel as oddly delectable as its namesake. My only mild disappointment was that I couldn't eat my copy.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360 Eats

What is Graves’ disease? Wendy Williams opens up about her condition
What is Graves’ disease? Wendy Williams opens up about her condition

Fans of the “Wendy Williams Show” will have to watch re-runs for nearly a month, because the media maven is taking a three-week hiatus to treat her Graves’ disease.  >> Read more trending news  She made the announcement on air Wednesday, revealing that her doctor is requiring her to take a break from work to &ldquo...
This Austin therapy dog comforted an entire community after the Florida school shooting
This Austin therapy dog comforted an entire community after the Florida school shooting

Kermit, who normally lives his life as a therapy dog in Austin, expanded his reach to comfort a community grieving after a shooting that left 17 people dead in Florida last week. Kermit’s owner, Melissa Unfred, said it “just so happened” that she and Kermit were in Florida last week.  “Kermit and I drove to Parkland...
Where to celebrate National Margarita Day in Austin
Where to celebrate National Margarita Day in Austin

Let’s be honest: Just about every day in Austin is a good day for margaritas. But Thursday will be especially so — because it’s National Margarita Day, when we can all celebrate one of our all-time favorite drinks.  Head to one of these local bars and restaurants during happy hour to enjoy the tequila cocktail, traditionally...
HBO is bringing ‘Westworld’ to SXSW -- is Austin where the robot revolt will start? 
HBO is bringing ‘Westworld’ to SXSW -- is Austin where the robot revolt will start? 

HBO is bringing a bit of their smash hit show “Westworld” to South by Southwest. The cable Goliath is building a town from the ground up for an immersive experience exclusively for SXSW badgeholders.  Open from March 9-11 only, the “Westworld”-themed park will feature reproduced versions of iconic locations and elements...
Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘Black-ish’ creator Kenya Barris and more to speak at SXSW
Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘Black-ish’ creator Kenya Barris and more to speak at SXSW

“Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, Blumhouse Productions founder and CEO Jason Blum, “Ready Player One” author Ernest Cline, actress Dakota Fanning, “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King, Paramount TV & Digital Entertainment president Amy Powell and, hello, actor and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger...
More Stories