Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: April 18, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Historical, Vacation Reading
J. Ryan Stradal’s new novel, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club, employs his familiar template of families, food and drink, but once again he uses it to create a fresh canvas for two families in northern Minnesota. Each runs a restaurant, but the similarities stop there. Betty and Floyd run the Lakeside, a traditional supper club with a bar, dance floor, and musical entertainment. The Pragers own Jorby’s, a chain of family diners. When the founders’ grandchildren fall in love and marry what follows is a rich, well blended stew of family, loss, and resilience, perfectly seasoned with humor and wisdom.
Ned and Mariel meet in their early 20s, both firmly launched towards their destinies running their family’s restaurants. Ned is already a VP at Jorby’s and Mariel spends her college vacations working behind the bar at the supper club. Stradal cleverly aligns the two at opposite ends of the restaurant world. Ned’s family runs their diners on Walmart model—profit, expansion, cheap food, and undercutting local restaurants’ prices, all of which often makes them disliked in the communities they enter. Mariel lives in the warmer world of a beloved local institution known to all and an integral part of the community, but struggling to stay afloat.
For both, there’s the love of their restaurant, but it manifests itself in different ways. Mariel has worked at the supper club since she was a little girl, not just for the joy of it, but as a way to spend summers away from her domineering, hyper-protective mother, Florence. Her mother who hates everything about the restaurant even though she’s supposed to inherit it. Ned has known since birth he will inherit Jorby’s, but while he has the desire, his easygoing nature and need to be liked outweigh his business acumen.
Rather than focus the tension in Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club around the restaurants Stradal uses his characters’ personal lives to give the novel its range. He wastes no time with blurred lines or ambiguity in their natures, but neither does he reduce them to stereotypes. Each has a distinct role to play, doing so with depth and heart. The only anomaly is Florence, a deeply disagreeable person whose selfishness unfurls again and again to the detriment of all around her. Including a shattering event so tragic, the shards left behind are impossible to reassemble into the lives that were.
The collision between Jorby’s and the Lakeside is inevitable, but ultimately the novel is less about two dining establishments and more about the people and lives that flow through and around them. Stradal treats all with a level of care and respect that resonates throughout Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club, making it nourishing and entertaining reading.
If you like the combination of food and family in your fiction try Marrying the Ketchups for more great reading.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).
*I received a free copy of this book from Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review.*