Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Title: Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Source: Kindle for iPad
Referral: A lady sitting in front of me in an endless Suzuki viola group lesson was reading it, so I bought it for my Kindle out of desperation for something to take my mind of all the squeaking
Books I've read this year: 115

I read primarily for enjoyment, and when the school year starts again, I sometimes feel an overwhelming need to balance out all of the boring school reading I'm forced to do with light, fun reading. Blood, Bones and Butter is an example of totally delightful, unabashed food porn, married with entertaining life story. However, the story of Hamilton's life almost feels like three separate stories, and I ended up at a very different place in the final pages of the book than where I expected to go in the beginning. I see the book in three very different sections. In the first, Hamilton experiences a magical childhood in the wilds of New Jersey, where her artist father and French mother raise their five kids in an old castle-like mill and have elaborate parties where they roast lambs. Her mother always has a pot of something fantastic on the stove. Then, when Hamilton is approaching adolescence, her mom splits, and she and the other siblings still at home basically get themselves through their teen years. This section is one part food to one part life history. In the second section, Hamilton cooks. She starts out as a waitress, goes to college here and there, does a lot of catering in NYC, makes the most glorious food I've ever heard of at a Vermont summer camp, gets an MFA in creative writing but finds herself uninterested in and unable to connect with fellow students (all a decade younger than she is) and spends her time hanging out in a friend's restaurant. Then she returns to NYC and opens her own restaurant. This section is one part life history to ten parts food. In the third section, Hamilton, whose long-term relationships up to this point had been with women, suddenly embarks on a green card marriage with an Italian doctor. Pretty soon, they try to make their fake marriage into a real marriage, with kids and two weeks every summer at his family home in Italy. It's evident that Hamilton is much more in love with her husband's family than she seems to be with her husband. This section is ten parts life history to one part food.

Overall, I liked the first two sections better, and now that it's been a while since I finished reading, I've decided it's because Hamilton is still living the third part when she writes the book. The book ends with the family returning to NYC, presumably to make some decision on the state of their failing marriage. I've tried to write about emotionally-charged situations while living through them, and it's hard. It shows in the book, because the focus seems to change a lot, and what made the book charming for me (peeking through Hamilton's food live to get a glimpse of her personal life) is totally removed in the third section, and I feel like she's opened the window all the way and invited us to enter in. I guess maybe that's what Jauss was talking about when he talked about how writers use distance. I've always been one to let it all hang out, but I can now see some of the wisdom about keeping some of the cards close to the vest.

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