Verdict: Clever and entertaining, APOCALYPSE CHOW uses the structure of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and visuals from the Coppola film "Apocalypse Now" to satirize the restaurant industry.
Charlie Marlow’s mission is to voyage deep into the Canadian wilderness to Chow, the ultimate destination restaurant owned by the mysterious Brothers. Chow’s chef, Walter Kurtz, hailed as a genius, a visionary, and the greatest chef in the land, has gone rogue, and Marlow must fire him.
In true quest fashion, Marlow assembles a band of motley companions, and they head into the land. By water. Marlow, a bland management kind of guy, is forced to confront what he thinks he knows about himself and what it means to be a brilliant, bold restaurateur. He must face “the hunger.”
It’s not easy to transform a voyage up the Congo through a voyage to the interior of Vietnam into a voyage deep in the Canadian interior; to keep the atmosphere of the inspirational pieces, but twist language and details to fit the food industry satire. Most of the time, author David Julian Wightman pulls it off.
APOCALYPSE CHOW adheres sometimes too closely to the structure of Heart of Darkness, where an unnamed narrator tells the tale of Marlow telling his tale. This is where the book is weakest. By the time the reader “hears” the story, it’s third-hand, rather than experiencing the action directly. The story is a story of a man telling a story. But clever touches such as an attack on the boat by flying cutlery instead of arrows, and using word choices to keep the tone of the inspiration while skewing to the restaurant industry. The woods are “heavy as the door of a walk-in fridge”; words “blazed out at you, luminous and terrifying, like flames in a pan of oil.”
Where Wightman shines is the depiction of Kurtz’s spectacular meal. Ingredients are foraged and hunted locally. They’re prepared and plated in unique fashions, and Kurtz lectures on the passion of his soul–how to build a better world. He is treated like a god, yet it is Marlow’s duty to fire him, no matter how much he admires Kurtz. This leads to their ultimate confrontation, complete with a soundtrack compliment of the Doors.
Wightman’s ability to integrate verbal, visual, aural, and other sensory information, and his strength in transforming a war story into a kitchen wars story, make this a fresh, invigorating read.
~Eva Schegulla for Indie Reader