Review of “Sourdough: A Novel” by Robin Sloan

Lois Clary is a young software programmer in San Francisco who spends all her time working on a robotic arm that can “end work.” The development effort, ironically, involves “a shit ton of work.” The company’s biggest challenge is getting the arm to do delicate work like breaking an egg; the “egg problem” is their holy grail.

Lois mostly eats and even sleeps at the office, but is “saved,” as she explains it, by Clement Street Soup and Sourdough. This small take-out run by two immigrant brothers quickly turns Lois into their “number one eater.” Their spicy soup is addictive to her, as is their wonderful sourdough bread.

Lois orders so much from the brothers that when they have visa problems and have to leave the country, they ask her to take custody of their sourdough starter and keep it alive. She buys a book on baking sourdough bread, builds an oven in her tiny backyard, and starts to bake bread. She also gets regular advice from one of the brothers, Beoreg, via email. Before long she has been accepted as a vendor at an experimental food market in Alameda called the Marrow Fair, on the condition she bring a robot arm with her to attract customers.

The bread made by the brothers’ starter is unique not only for its taste, but because the bread loaves have faces. As Lois explains:

“It was an illusion, of course. Jesus Christ in an English muffin. It’s called pareidolia. Humans see faces in everything.”

But, as she allowed, the illusion was compelling, and before long, her bread business literally gets out of control.

The robot arm turns out to be a godsend, because Lois’s bread is so popular she needs extra help, especially since she is still working full-time at the software company. The arm provides the labor. Moreover, when the baking is done, she has the arm right there to continue her work on the egg problem.

The new venture opens up Lois’s world: she makes friends and expands her horizons. Suddenly new options for the direction of her life are on the table, and Lois realizes she must make a decision.

Evaluation: This short little satire ribbing both foodies and techies has lots of unexpected humorous touches, such as the Lois Club that the protagonist joins – a group with chapters in numerous cities for women named Lois. But be warned: I was digging out recipes for sourdough bread by about the third chapter, and couldn’t rest until I had made a fresh loaf slathered with butter hot out of the oven!

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

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7 Responses to Review of “Sourdough: A Novel” by Robin Sloan

  1. Jeanne says:

    If there had been more satire and less of the strange romance subplot I would have liked this novel better (as I said in my own review, back in Nov. 2017).

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I think I have this one and I think I’d like it!

  3. Lloyd Russell says:

    I liked this one okay. But I preferred Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

    Lloyd (408) 348-4849

    On Sun, Jun 9, 2019 at 11:02 PM Rhapsody in Books Weblog wrote:

    > rhapsodyinbooks posted: “Lois Clary is a young software programmer in San > Francisco who spends all her time working on a robotic arm that can “end > work.” The development effort, ironically, involves “a shit ton of work.” > The company’s biggest challenge is getting the arm to do d” >

  4. Mae Sander says:

    I read this a couple of times, and I know a lot sourdough bread has resulted from the book. Your review is accurate but I think you could have mentioned the author’s many playful, humorous, and magical-realism touches, as well as the fun with a ton of amusing vocabulary. I also liked Mr. Penumbra, as another commenter mentioned.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  5. Beth F says:

    I enjoyed this book, though it had it’s weird moments. The audiobook has samples of the Magz music that keeps the starter happy.

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