The Rib King

Amistad: HarperCollins. Jan. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9780062979063. $27.99. F
“Push back” is the common cry of the streetcar operator in Hubbard’s second novel (after The Talented Ribkins), and main characters Sitwell, Mamie, and Jennie must overcome this command in very different ways. In 1914 New Orleans, the once wealthy white Barclays now struggle to pay every bill. They have only Black servants and take in three Black orphan boys from a nearby asylum. Many years ago, Sitwell was one such orphan and recognizes his present situation for what it really is, working for little reward as a stereotypical Black butler doing parlor tricks to entertain guests. When he and the cook, Mamie, collaborate to create a sauce to cover meager offerings at an important dinner for a favorable business prospect, it is a big hit. The Rib King sauce goes into production, with a mocking caricature of Sitwell on the bottle, and is soon hugely successful—but not to the benefit of its creators. With a shocking tragedy, the story truly takes off, as stereotypes crash down and Mamie and Jennie leave to find something valuable of their own.
VERDICT Finely written and worth a second read, this novel would be a fantastic choice for book discussion groups. With complete faithfulness to the text, it could also make an excellent movie.
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