By Kate Christensen
The award-winning novelist impresses readers once again, but this time, it’s fact, not fiction, that dazzles. Her food memoir is frank, humorous and warm; the stories, written morsel-like, are devoured quickly. Fans of Ruth Reichl and M.F.K. Fisher will find Christensen similarly nourishing.
The book begins with a life-defining moment: Christensen’s father beats her mother violently after a family meal of delicious soft-boiled eggs and buttered bread. Her parents divorce, and Kate and her sisters are raised by their mother. She moves a lot, and the book is divided into parts representing each new locale: pot roast in Arizona, tapioca pudding in California, courgettes in France, minestrone in New York.
She writes tenderly about adolescence, when simple crackers and cheese after school can make your heart sing, and how your lunchbox can define you. The book is, at turns, roaringly funny—her mother’s potluck dinners of the ’70s, full of casseroles, nudism and weed are particularly hilarious. Yet the author never shies away from exploring the painful either, beginning with her father. Later there’s a math teacher who took her for inappropriate “walks” and a series of wrong boyfriends. Christensen eloquently describes heartache, isolation, weight-gain and starvation without a trace of bitterness and points to how food brought her pleasure, safety and, eventually, love. Fried garlic is cause for salvation. “I stood by the stove, inhaling the smell as if it were a revelation.”
Christensen’s talent lies in her ability to take the common (divorce, teenage loneliness, homesickness, dating) and make them at once soulful and remarkable. Don’t be surprised when reading the book to find yourself drawn to making toast, popping champagne or looking for a sloppy submarine sandwich.