A mysterious illness is afflicting the residents of Millsville, Wisconsin—but that might be the least of their problems. Investigating the outbreak is Arthur Reilly, the perfectionist county restaurant inspector forced to relocate from New York City to rebuild his life following a corruption scandal. When Arthur gets sidetracked from tackling the mystery, the town descends into panic, chaos and finger pointing. As the situation spirals out of control, county commissioner Janet Vosberg seizes the moment to position herself for higher office and newspaper editor Adam Bender aims to settle a long-simmering score. And what’s with the hot dog pushcart that recently appeared by the side of Highway 9?
A book about lonely failures, foodborne pathogens, diners, deer, chewing tobacco, shame, refugees, regret, lies, Russians, lawyers, flat earthers, the unknown, gossip, divorce, hiding, a twenty-foot-tall talking goat, disaffected daughters, clunky boots, Scrabble, boredom, superstitions, terrestrial radio, softball memorabilia, inept cops, mystical copper wire, leaving work early, supermarkets, estranged couples, fear, curfews, neighbors, pancake blocks, turkey feathers, county commissioners, Slavyanka hair extensions, tomatoes, Albania, heating and cooling guys, love, heroin, hunting, pyramid schemes, coworkers, infidelity, profit, inspection reports, unwelcome houseguests, a possible epidemic, small-town newspapers, intestinal discomfort, Americans, masks, mold, bullies, hot dog carts, lousy government vehicles, Wisconsin, and blame.
This antic, raunchy send-up of small-town life gets deep into the minds and hearts of its characters. Alex Pickett’s darkly funny novel exposes the fault lines in Midwestern Nice as it follows a varied cast of malcontents tangled in hopes, schemes, tragedies, reconciliations and triumphs.
"In his brisk and lively debut Alex Pickett flits from one delightfully imperfect character to another with remarkable assurance, exceptional skill, and extravagant imagination. The result is an engrossing and captivating panorama of a small town in turmoil. As vivid and odd as real life, but with a better plot."
-Chris Bachelder, National Book Award finalist for The Throwback Special
"I love Alex Pickett's writing. Hilarious and heartbreaking, his debut novel The Restaurant Inspector plays like the lost Coen Brothers movie of my dreams — an absurd yet authentic depiction of Middle America that grounds you in the banal normality of the region while subtly pointing out the myriad ways in which people are slowly losing their minds."
-Steven Hyden, author of This Isn't Happening and Twilight Of The Gods
"Witty and richly drawn."
-Rob Thomas, The Capital Times
"A smart, darkly funny, relevant novel about what is lurking behind the kitchen door. Pickett takes our most basic needs—food, love, family, and community—and reimagines them until the paradoxes of sustenance are seen anew. A wonderful debut."
-Jill Ciment, author of The Body in Question
"Funny, smart, and engaging. Pickett's The Restaurant Inspector heralds the arrival of an important new voice in American literature. Steeped in the atmosphere of the Midwest and bringing to mind the work of Willa Cather, William Maxwell, Mona Simpson, and Glenway Wescott, I found it a joy to read."
-David Leavitt, author of Shelter in Place
"The Restaurant Inspector squirrels through major and minor points of view with charming, unhectic, credible precision that reminds me of William Trevor's News from Ireland. Mr. Pickett effects a fun, whimsical-looking surface, perfectly joined, that carries a ballast in the boat that is never ponderous. One gets the feeling that each character in this book is real, is true, is not forced, however improbable the loopiness of his or her adventure. A kind of Fargo on terra firma that may make a real movie."
-Padgett Powell, author of Cries for Help, Various
"An inherently fascinating portrayal of small-town life, a roster of memorable characters, their relationships and their convoluted, corrupted ambitions [...] especially and unreservedly recommended for community library collections."
-The Midwest Book Review