If done well, there is nothing quite like a book that gives cooking and the healing powers of food a leading role in its plot. The perfect example that comes to my mind first is "The School of Essential Ingredients"...wow, what a magical book that was. I truly believe that flavors and textures and smells can be combined to heal and soothe the most tired soul. Obviously Ms. Erica Bauermeister gets it too, because I'll never forget that story.
So when reviews started popping up for this book, my ears perked up when I learned that one of the central themes was food. I was lucky enough to nab it on audio from my local library.
Synopsis: This story focuses on three people who are struggling to find themselves and a place where they belong. Bobby is a young gay man who grew up in rural Georgia as a Baptist preacher's son, and was ostracized from his family because of his sexual orientation. He escapes to New York City and lands a job as a sous chef in a well-regarded boutique restaurant. Alice, the owner of the restaurant, is an African American woman who is a bit of a legend in the culinary world, but has kept her family and her history from North Carolina a secret from everyone, even her closest friends. Amelia is a Connecticut housewife whose life is upended when she discovers not only her husband's secret life but a few secrets from her background as well.
These three individuals are adrift, lost in a confusing world that they thought they knew. They converge in an 80's New York City, amidst the AIDS epidemic, and find a communion and comfort in each other's company, as well as friendship that acts as a reinforcement in their darkest hours.
My thoughts: This is just one of those books that warms the heart. The paths that these three characters take are not pleasant...they have all had the rug pulled out from underneath them. White makes you FEEL their pain - all different kinds of pain but all very alienating. We've got serious issues of racism (against skin color and sexual orientation), AIDS, grief, infidelity and standing strong for who you are. Heavy stuff.
But when these three find each other, in the presence of Alice and Bobby's Southern comfort food brought to the table of a chic, NYC cafe, it becomes somehow lighter, hopeful and magical. When Bobby adapts his Meemaw's pound cake (which she sold to her neighbors for years and from which the proceeds funded Bobby's escape to New York in the first place) into a famous dessert at the cafe, I think I gained 5 pounds just from reading about it!
If you are in the mood for a thoughtful, serious but heartwarming read, you really need to pick this one up.
A few words about the audio production: Each character had their own narrator, which worked really well here. Robin Miles, George Newbern, and Katherine Powell all did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of each of these characters. I don't think I've ever heard any of them before, but they made this a very satisfying and entertaining listening experience.
Listening length: 9 hours and 1 minute (336 pages)
4.5 out of 5 stars