, Muskogee, OK


November 13, 2012

Ribs ensure no vacancies at dinner table

— J.K. Rowling’s much awaited adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy,” had many people drooling over its possibilities, but has left almost everyone with a sour taste in their mouths. The recent release by the genius behind the Harry Potter series is a wordy treatise on modern class wars in Britain and their effects at the microscopic level of the individual. A major drawback of the novel is the in-depth description of the daily lives of citizens in Pagford, a fictional village based on Rowling’s hometown in the Forest of Dean.

But that intricate description is also the book’s major virtue, for without it one would never understand the complexities of British council elections or the teenaged angst of living in a much despised and ridiculed housing project with a mother addicted to heroin. While the characters are multidimensional, Rowling has received criticism for the stereotypical, even racist, nature in which they are portrayed.

The book’s premise revolves around a spot on the city council left vacant when its holder, Barry Fairbrother, drops dead of an aneurysm at the age of 44. This seems to bring out the ridiculous and the sublime in the upstanding and not-so-upstanding citizens of Pagford. Thoughts of running for Barry’s spot spur on a nasty competitiveness in the adults, while their children expose them for what they are in an online forum. With death, rape, methadone clinics, and regular old hometown drama, there is not much magic in this book. Who knows, one day it may be considered a classic study in social customs of middle class Brits during the 21st century, but for now I think I will casually vacate “The Casual Vacancy.”

We can still cook up some great food that will ensure there are no vacancies at the table. Slow cooked beef short ribs with parsley mashed potatoes are perfect autumnal comfort foods for a Sunday night dinner.

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