Lunch Date: Taking Exit West to one of the Northwest's famous sandwich joints

(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)

Who’s your date today? Exit West, a novel by Mohsin Hamid.

Where’d you go? I was in Tacoma for a day trip and stopped by the MSM Deli, a legendary lunch spot that doesn't offer much by way of ambiance — it's a convenience store with some card tables — but enjoys a large Northwest fanbase.

What’d you eat? I ordered the Italian coldcut sub. I didn't know how huge the portions were, so I ordered a large, which turned out to be, uh, large.

How was the food? It was good! the meat was great, and they didn't overwhelm with the oil and vinegar, which is nice. It's definitely an east coast sub, and all you transplants who miss the no-frills east coast sandwich should hit up the MSM. I was a little underwhelmed by the bread, though, which was airy and not the most flavorful. The thing with east coast subs is that you're not looking for fancy dense bread. You want something chewy and a little bit plainer than you'd find at, say, Macrina. But they use a very large French bread loaf at MSM, and it was frankly a little too much bread in the sandwich. I thought the ratios were a little overwhelmed by having too much of a not-great bread in the mix.

What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice...

Is there a representative quote? Let's go with the opening paragraph: "In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days. His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe. Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something."

Will you two end up in bed together? Yeah! Hamid read at Elliott Bay a few weeks ago and I'm upset that I didn't go to the reading now. This is a totally charming beginning of a book. It reads kind of like a fairy tale — although there are some dark elements stirring in even these first few pages — and there's obviously a bit of a Kundera vibe going on, too. I've not been having the easiest time with novels lately, but Exit West seems like it might break the curse.