Re­viewer gives medi­ocrity a good name

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - LIFE -

In­ter­net con­nec­tion as un­in­ten­tion­ally hi­lar­i­ous. Soon it went vi­ral, and Hagerty was signed to the HarperCollins imprint of New York chef An­thony Bour­dain, who says in his fore­word here that she “kills snark dead.” Read­ing this book from cover to cover kills some­thing, most likely one’s ap­petite. Hagerty eats an end­less suc­ces­sion of club­house sand­wiches, baked pota­toes and chicken sal­ads. Ev­ery­thing she tries is “tasty” or “good.”

Any sin­gle re­view, taken in iso­la­tion, might be charm­ingly folksy. But taken tto­gether, they’re like gorg­ing on bags aand bags of potato chips.

“Canned green beans taste good to me,” she writes in a 1991 re­view of the RRoyal Fork Buffet in the Columbia Mall. “I’ve al­ways like them, so I piled a big help­ing on my plate, along with some spaghetti.”

The book’s type is set in two nar­row col­umns per page, the font a vari­ant of Times Ro­man, to sug­gest ephemeral news­pa­per copy.

Parochial to a fault, she never takes the short drive north across the bor­der to visit a city with real restau­rants. True, in March 2011, she men­tions a Win­nipeg busi­ness­woman, “Pam,” who has asked her to rec­om­mend a de­cent lob­ster bisque in Grand Forks now that the land­mark Whitey’s has closed.

“I told Pam,” she writes, “I had a pretty good lob­ster bisque at Red Lob­ster on 32nd Av­enue South and Columbia Road.”

As much as Bour­dain and HarperCollins might protest, there ap­pears to be but one rea­son for this book — to mock Hagerty as a hick from North Dakota.

Even as ser­vice jour­nal­ism, the book has lit­tle value, be­cause half the restau­rants she writes about have closed their doors — many ca­su­al­ties of the 1997 flood.

In her de­fence, Hagerty claims to be a re­porter, not a critic. But she is closer to be­ing a stenog­ra­pher or a PR agent. A re­porter, at least oc­ca­sion­ally, re­ports some­thing that makes some­body un­com­fort­able.

At least her ti­tle, Grand Forks, is witty, and not just for the amus­ing con­trast be­tween her city’s name and its gas­tro­nomic tedium.

It calls to mind the fa­mous Coen broth­ers black com­edy Fargo, named af­ter that other prime North Dakota des­ti­na­tion. In Hagerty’s home­spun prose, you hear the flat vow­els of the movie’s heroine, prairie po­lice­woman Marge Gunderson.

Th­ese women are soul­mates, right down to their cast-iron stom­achs. The only dif­fer­ence is that Marge solved crimes. Hagerty is still com­mit­ting them.

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