Further Reading: Sandwiches

This morning’s David Brooks New York Times column about structural and social inequality engorged the outrage glands of the Twittersphere due to the following passage:

Plenty of blogs have already collected the best Twitter takes, and The A. V. Club just weighed in with the first feature-length satire of the op-ed. But has anyone stopped to consider the literary precedent of Brooks’ clumsy anecdote? (Answer: no!)

Writers—even good ones—love using sandwiches as class markers. The following novels, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews, take two pieces of bread and fill them in such a way to make their readers aware of their characters’ station and circumstance.


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce knows, rationally, that she’s being sent away to her mother’s old school, Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, in Canada. To a 12-year-old, leaving her beloved English home of Buckshaw feels like banishment. She’s heartened when a corpse crashes down from the chimney in her room on her first night at Miss Bodycote’s—Flavia has a remarkable affinity for the dead—and by private tutoring in “the gentle arts of mayhem” from headmistress Miss Fawlthorne and middle-of-the-night chemistry training from acquitted murderer Mrs. Bannerman. But as Flavia puzzles over the identity of the body, not to mention the fate of the three girls gone missing from the academy, she is warned repeatedly to trust no one, not knowing who belongs to the ultrasecret society that uses the code words “pheasant sandwiches.”


Free Range Institution, by Michael Haskins

Mick Murphy, the newshawk hero of Haskins’ latest Key West mystery, makes a classic reporter goof. He pretends to be a little closer to the action than he really is. Both good and bad guys take him at his word, and the chase is on. This really isn’t a high-concept action novel or even a stripped-down thriller. It’s about adult relationships, and its generous use of the Key West setting will appeal to readers who like local color. Since it’s the Keys, a lot of beer and rum goes down, and there’s much eating of cheeseburgers, dolphin sandwiches, and breakfast eggs with hot sauce.




Montpelier Parade, by Karl Geary

Between bloody shifts at the butcher shop and oily chip sandwiches, 16-year-old Sonny Knolls is driven by boredom to steal bike parts and drink himself into a stupor. Sonny’s Irish adolescence is as bleak as the ever-pissing Dublin skies, until one night when he asks an older woman, Vera, to buy him a bottle of wine. A kinship is born. When Sonny comes over one afternoon, he finds Vera swallowing handfuls of pills in a serious attempt to die. Sonny calls an ambulance, and, after many subsequent hospital visits, Sonny and Vera enter a deeply complicated sexual relationship.


Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday, by Christine Reilly

Mathilde Spicer, a budding thespian, and Claudio Simone, a recent graduate, marry young after falling in love at a party at NYU. They are immediately simpatico, and the narrator states this isn’t a story about love; instead, “this will be a story about family.” They soon become five, with two of their own, Natasha and Lucy, and an adopted daughter from China, Carly. They move to Long Island, where the girls have a picturesque childhood—eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, laughing, writing, listening to the Beatles, and, eventually, playing spin the bottle. But when Lucy contracts a rare heart condition, the family struggles to remain strong in the face of impending tragedy.





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About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

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