The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
Summary: Two generations of the Lambert family struggle with the burden of daily life.
Sounds pretty unexciting, huh? The Corrections was a strange, and strangely compelling read. It seems so ludicrous – from Chip’s job scamming American investors into pouring money in Lithuania by means of a phony website, to Denise sleeping not only with a married woman, but that married woman’s husband as well, or Gary’s cold money-grubbing and his poewr struggle of a marriage to harpy wife Caroline. Then, of course, there’s their parents, Enid and Al, the latter of whom is losing both mental and physical control as Parkinson’s takes over his brain. Ultimately, they are all reunited for one last Christmas together, as per Enid’s wishes, and forced to face the truth about their collective situation. Every single character is hateful, annoying and frustrating (to varying degrees), but there’s something about Franzen’s black humour that kept me reading.
Blood, Bones and Butter: the education of a reluctant chef – Gabrielle Hamilton
Summary: An idyllic bohemian childhood abruptly ends with a divorce, the catalyst for young Gabrielle striking out on her own and making a place for herself in the world.
As you would expect, Hamilton’s memoir is filled with sumptuous memories of food, tied in closely with family. A sense of belonging is something she actively tries to cultivate in an attempt to recreate the memories of her youth prior to her parents’ split – an event that led her to take on dishwashing jobs and eventually move to New York to work in bars and restaurants (one year she pulled in $90,000 working around the clock as an underage waitress, and spent it all on drugs) and catering companies. Eventually, she completes a Masters in literature, but realises that food is where her heart lies, and when the opportunity to open her own restaurant presents itself, she seizes it – despite never having even worked as a restaurant chef before, or having any business experience.
Hamilton is as talented a writer as she is a chef (she apparently beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef but had no desire to be on TV). Her no-nonsense take on being a woman in the industry is refreshing, as is her outlook on food (no foams, no pretentious sauces, just genuine, comforting fare that people actually want to eat). For me, though, one of the most intriguing aspects of the book was largely left unresolved – that of her loveless marriage. While she identifies as a lesbian in one chapter and has relationships with women, she ends up marrying an Italian doctor and having two children with him; his south Italian family provide her with some of those roots she yearns for, but it seems a union doomed.
Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote
Summary: A strange coming-of-age tale packed with quirky characters that lacks resolution.
Other Voices, Other Rooms follows young Joel Knox as he’s packed off to Alabama to live with his father’s family following the death of his mother. His new life is packed with quirky characters: his paralysed father who communicates by throwing balls down the stairs; his long-suffering stepmother; and wacky Cousin Randolph, who drinks too much and likes to dress up as a woman, to name just a few.
Capote has talent. He was my age when he wrote this. His polished prose seems to sparkle effortlessly and its dreamy quality is beguiling. But at times it verges on the outright bizarre; some of the rambling toward the end of the novel is simply confused (confusing?), the gothic, supernatural elements lead nowhere, nor in fact is there any resolution to be found, whether it’s in regard to Zoo, the bright-eyed young maid, Idabel (aka Harper Lee), his tomboyish neighbour, his bedridden father, or even Cousin Randolph.
Loved The Corrections – the characters are vile but still so readable. It takes real talent to make unlikeable people compelling.