Chronicles of a Radical Hag (With Recipes) is Minneapolis-based writer and comedian Lorna Landvik’s twelfth novel. At once elegy and coming-of-age story, Landvik weaves together different perspectives to address an astonishing breadth of social issues and play with the psychological power of stories.
Chronicles is centered around the elderly community newspaper columnist Haze Evans, a woman who managed to compel the whole town of Granite Creek with her words alone. Haze suffers a stroke and in the aftermath, Landvik slowly peels back the layers of Haze’s inner life through the memories of coworkers, lovers, and townspeople. Sam, the teenage son of the newspaper’s publisher, finds a special connection with Haze after his mom tasks him with reading Haze’s columns as a part of his summer job.
Sam’s connection to Haze’s worldview, and the growth this engagement elicits—from surly teen repressing himself due to toxic masculinity to an opinionated citizen of the world, unafraid to put himself out there—becomes the emotional core of the novel. Other arcs, like the revelation of a hidden affair, the reconciliation of Sam’s parents, and a coworker’s decision to publicly claim her sexuality, revolve around this one. Landvik successfully teases out nuance from these disparate stories by pinning each thread to Haze and the power of the written word.
Landvik chooses to tell much of this novel through inserts of Haze’s 50 years’ worth of columns and responding letters-to-the-editor, a fresh way to integrate backstory about Haze and the Granite Creek community into the novel without halting the momentum of the present conflicts. It also allows the reader to be mesmerized by Haze’s compelling voice, conversational and honest, roping you in just as it did to Granite Creek. By the end of the novel, the reader has a sense of Haze’s impact and hold over the townspeople, learning along with Sam how to see the world through Haze’s—at times comic, other times solemn and wise—insights into her varied life experiences.
Through this novel, perhaps readers can learn to reexamine their petty fears and insecurities, coming away with, as Haze does, a “hope and pride that I’m part of the human choir, despite a certain inability to stay in tune.”–Hannah Schultz