A complicated story with some beautiful writing. The "hot stew" of one community's complex and layered peoples amidst conflict? Indeed.
Emotional connection: ★★
So this is a doozy of a novel. I'm going to do my best to synthesize my feelings for it here, but as it was so complex and rich with social commentary, I'm sure I'll accidentally overlook at least one thing.
In modern-day Soho, where sex workers, restauranteurs, drifters, old hanger-ons and more all coexist on the same street, "community" is a blended thing. For sex workers Precious and Tabitha, their community is a rich tapestry of clients, coworkers, neighbors, and old acquaintances—and each other. For Robert, one of their older regulars, his memories of a time as a gang leader's heavy-hitter are an unwelcome reminder of the past and the people around him at all times. For Agatha, the complicated daughter of Robert's billionaire gang leader and the property owner of Precious and Tabitha's building, community is a concept that she shuns and tries to bury in cold distance and money.
Those are just a few of the perspectives we're following in Hot Stew, Fiona Mozley's sophomore novel. A complex, ever-shifting perspective of one community's simmering landscape...this was intense.
The inciting incident is Agatha's decision to force out those who live in her properties, but it quickly becomes a different animal to read--this isn't just about a property, or even an address. It's about the soft ties that bind a bunch of (seemingly) unconnected people.
For those who love literary fiction with an edge, this is a great novel for you. It is scintillating in its perusal of womanhood and ownership. It also tackles multi-generational conflicts and lasting impacts. It is also an introspective of a geographically-based community.
However, I as a reader was not the perfect audience. While I enjoyed and quickly became engrossed in the storytelling, Hot Stew failed to cross the barrier between awareness and involvement for me on a character level. I am a very character-driven reader. Due to the focus on almost a dozen distinct POVs in this slim novel—and the intention of the author to focus on the community itself as a singular "POV" of sorts—I felt perpetually held at a distance from the characters themselves.
Overall, personal lack of connection aside, I found Hot Stew utterly compelling. Do pick it up if any of the above has interested you—you're in for a memorable reading experience.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.