This novel, written in the form of a memoir, follows the members of a search committee as they seek a new pastor for their church congregation. The narrator is a restaurant-review writer; meals at local restaurants and in committee members' homes occur in the course of the story. Recipes for twenty-five of the dishes are included.
... tracks a surprisingly amusing account of ecclesiastical politics in the age of 'wokeness' and, to a lesser extent, Dana’s own pursuit of spiritual and personal fulfillment ... At book’s end, Huneven, a James Beard Award-winning food writer, serves up some of the recipes the group has enjoyed. It’s as mouthwatering an experience as reading Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police mysteries, in which Bruno whips up French classics in the Dordogne ... Dana’s own observations are spiced with wit ... on balance a novel whose humor works because it is so plausible. Though thick with satirical moments, it is not quite a satire, since Huneven has too much respect for all her seekers. She stops just short of reducing them to stereotypes and regards their search as earnest, despite all the bruised egos, dead ends and outright silliness. Even the fierce cadre of the young is observed with as much fondness as ridicule.
... what it's really about — what makes it so enthralling — is human nature. Relationships, chemistry, charisma, self-awareness (or lack thereof), and, especially, group dynamics and how they can turn the best-laid plans upside down ... The strengths of Huneven's novel lie in her deep understanding of human nature and her ability to channel the voices of the visiting ministers — not just in their dialogue, but also in their application packets of mission statements, faith journeys and sermons ... The eight people on the committee are recognizable, fully formed characters ... It's fascinating to watch how skillfully Huneven moves committee members from one side to the other, and to watch, appalled, as the inevitable slowly happens. Those scenes are a master class in group dynamics ... a fun read. While the book is laced with plenty of humor (which Dana herself does not always see), it is laced, too, with plenty of wisdom. We can search, Huneven is saying, but you just never know what you might find.
I enjoyed this book and found myself wanting to return to it so I could find out who 'won.' However, I did have trouble nailing down the 'so what?' of it all. At some point around halfway through, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling quite worried enough about the outcome. I was following the action, but holding it at arm’s length .. That aside, this novel has plot, character, structure and a delicious, deeply human pettiness that I think most honest readers will relate to. And speaking of delicious, Huneven’s descriptions of food are the best I’ve ever read, by far the most vivid prose in the book.