Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Oink: A Food for Thought Mystery

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Oink: A Food for Thought Mystery

Article excerpt

OINK: A FOOD FOR THOUGHT MYSTERY BY J.L. NEWTON She Writes Press, 2017. $16. 256pp.

Oink, J.L. Newton's first mystery novel and now out in paperback, follows her memoir Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen, three single-authored scholarly monographs, and two edited collections in gender studies.

A retired women's studies professor, Newton uses her familiarity with acidemia to craft this campus mystery novel, akin to Jane Smiley's Moo. Set at Arbor State, a public university in California, narrator and women's studies professor Emily Addams finds herself at the center of a poisoning on campus. Peter Elliott, a fellow faculty member whose research is sponsored by agricultural behemoth Syndicon, is found unconscious in the university's pigsty holding a piece of cornbread studded with caramelized onions and goat cheese, Addams' signature bread. The day before the poisoning, Addams had baked a batch for a Native American studies reception.

The cast of characters in Oink is diverse, yet Addams remains the only developed character. While Addams tries to clear her name and solve the mystery, she attends various committee meetings addressing the fate of the ethnic and women's studies programs at Arbor State. Through these meetings we meet Vice Provost I.orna Vogle and faculty members Alma Castillo, Isobel Flores-Rivera, and Frank Walker. Visits to Juan Carlos Vega, Collin Morehead, Tess Ryan, Emily's closest friend, and Teresa Fuentes-Elliott, Peter Elliott's wife, introduce us to faculty in the sciences.

Community and food are at the heart of Newton's novel. Addams' newest research agenda addresses food, corn especially, and recipes that build community. Addams and her colleagues gather around food to celebrate, brainstorm how to save their programs, and commemorate different cultures. At the end of every chapter, Newton includes a corn-centric recipe that plays; prominent role in that chapter, from the corn and cherry scones that Emily eats on her way to work in the first chapter to the candy corn cupcakes that she and her ten-year-old daughter, Polly, decorate for Halloween. …

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