Saturday, August 14, 2010

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR


"EATING PEACHES" by Ena Joyce

On my regular blog, Celtic Lady, I recently posted about the joys of summer still left to partake of in August, one of which was slicing lush, ripe peaches and drizzling them with cream and sugar.

That same evening, as I was reading "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman, I came across this passage: "...she washed [the] ripe fruit, and bit and broke the skin. An intense tang, the underside of velvet. Then the flesh dissolved in a wash of nectar. Juice drenched her hand and wet the inside of her wrist. She had forgotten, if she had ever known, that what was sweet could also be complicated, that fruit could have a nap, like fabric, soft one way, sleek the other. She licked the juice dripping down her arm."

Now that's great food writing - great descriptive writing of any type, right? If the book had continued in that vein, "The Cookbook Collector" would have ranked as high, in my opinion, as "The School of Essential Ingredients" (previously reviewed).

Unfortunately, that description occurred on page 402 of a 587-page (large-print) book, and what had come before had been so boring as to be sleep inducing.

It would have been great if the book had stuck with its opening character, Jessamine, a retro hippie-Berkeley philosophy student-tree hugging-independent bookstore clerk and her employer, George. It is their delight to discover and archive an amazing, heretofore-unknown collection of very old cookbooks, and discover the delights of each other in the process.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the book is devoted to Jessamine's sister Emily, a driven, successful president of a start-up dot.com company. (If I have mangled this description badly enough to make computer geeks shriek, too bad, I'm not offering any apology. Go back to your cubicle now.)

The story of the ups and downs of Emily and her sleazy boyfriend Jonathan's companies is mind-numbingly, excruciatingly boring. Way, way too much time is wasted on Em and company. As quickly as the dot.com companies soar, they plummet like Icarus. Such is the way of the world of the late 1990s, during which most of this novel takes place.

Then 9/11 arrives and a couple of the principals, who are passengers on the doomed flight out of Boston, are killed - ho-hum, we scarcely care - but this does shake up the survivors. I think that Goodman created these obscenely rich, opportunistic, unprincipled characters to be foils for the protagonists - appreciators of fine books and art, connoisseurs of fine wine and food, philosophers, humanists, caring individuals attuned to the natural world and each other.

Then, you have a side story of long-lost relatives belonging to a a mystical Jewish sect I had never heard of, and which involved two rabbis so alike in character I could not distinguish between them. These Jewish relatives provide several way-too-neat plot tie-ups.

By the way, we actually learn very, very little about the eponymous cookbook collector. As I previously mentioned, if only the story had concentrated on Jessamine, George, and the collector and his mysterious lady love who is revealed only through the drawings and poems he had tucked into his cookbooks.

1 comment:

lila said...

Now that makes me want a peach for sure!
I will avoid the book however!