Robin Sloan’s Sourdough had me craving for bread as I read the adventurous tale of a young computer geek turned baker.
Although the dough itself is the main character in the novel, Lois Clary expedites its coming of age. The dough grows from a lump in a crock owned by two undocumented cooks with a take-out business who leave town quickly, to a starring role in a futuristic farmer’s market of experimental foods. Along the way, Computer Lois finds her calling and is able to use her expertise programming industrial robot arms to streamline the process of baking loaves of bread.
Most of the story is tantalizingly fun, but some conflict is created by the challenge between eating for pleasure and feeding the masses. It’s Alice Waters vs the scientists, home-grown tomatoes vs nutritious Slurry. The ending gets a little wild – as yeasty dough can get if left unattended, as Sloan tries to accommodate old world with new age in a strange marriage of breadcrumbs.
This is a book for all the senses: the yeasty smell of the starter dough percolating in its crock; the sounds of the background music motivating the sourdough starter as it whistles and pops through the night; the taste of soft bread in a crispy crust smothered in butter with a sprinkling of salt; the sight of the strange markings on the baked crust, possibly channeling the Madonna on a potato chip; and, finally the squeeze of the dough kneaded into the final heft of a crusty loaf. You will need some good bread nearby to eat as you read, preferably one with character.
My favorite scene was Lois teaching the robot arm to crack an egg. Cracking an egg, one-handed, is no easy feat. Julia Child made it look simple, but have you ever tried it? One of my favorite elements of satire is the idea of losing weight eating only bread (Oprah, take note – no bad carbs here). The story spoofs the modern and the conventional – a Lois Club for women named Lois, the nutritive gel replacing real food, the strangely isolating workplace environment, the identify of the mysterious benefactor.
Sourdough, like the bread, has more heft than first appears. Sloan has filled it with mysterious and satisfying ingredients; let your senses fill up while you read and enjoy. I plan to bake some bread today.
A friend was listening to the book on Audible while I was reading it on my iPhone. When she described how the author incorporated the sounds of the starter dough as it morphed as well as the baker’s music into the reading of the book, it made me want to listen to it. We also started sharing bread recipes. I’ve included one of my favorites – here.