Patricia Volk’s delicious memoir lets us into her big, crazy, loving, cheerful, infuriating and wonderful family, where you’re never just hungry–your starving to death, and you’re never just full–you’re stuffed. Volk’s family fed New York City for one hundred years, from 1888 when her great-grandfather introduced pastrami to America until 1988, when her father closed his garment center restaurant. All along, food was pretty much at the center of their lives. But as seductively as Volk evokes the food, Stuffed is at heart a paean to her quirky, vibrant relatives: her grandmother with the “best legs in Atlantic City”; her grandfather, who invented the wrecking ball; her larger-than-life father, who sculpted snow thrones when other dads were struggling with snowmen. Writing with great freshness and humor, Patricia Volk will leave you hungering to sit down to dinner with her robust family–both for the spectacle and for the food.
In a restaurant family "ou're never full, you're stuffed," says Volk (White Light). But her delightful memoir is not so much about food as about family "your very own living microcosm of humanity, with its heroes and victims and martyrs and failures, beauties and gamblers, hawks and lovers, cowards and fakes, dreamers, its steamrollers, and the people who quietly get the job done." In a series of vignettes remarkable for their humor and insight, she portrays her father's father, Jacob Volk, who invented the wrecking ball and made a fortune in the demolition business; her mother's father, Herman Morgen, who opened a sandwich shop on Broadway and eventually owned 14 restaurants in New York City; and her mother, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. There's plenty of eccentricity Uncle Al slept with Aunt Lil for 11 years, then didn't want to marry her because she wasn't a virgin; Aunt Ruthie gave a burglar who took her hostage in her Bronx apartment a meal and a lecture. But the real charm of the book is in Volk's evocative descriptions of everyday life in a Jewish family in New York. She works magic with such mundane subjects as a visit to Uncle Al the endodontist, dieting, the housekeeper's cleaning habits, her parents' decision to be cremated. A short description of a sleepover at her grandparents' house speaks pages about Herman Morgen and his wife, Polly; Aunt Ruthie's speech patterns are immortalized in a few choice sentences; a disquisition on handkerchiefs and "hankie behavior" is a small masterpiece. This bighearted book will make readers want to look at their own families with fresh eyes. Photos not seen by PW.