Read this book.
Usually I just use this space to fangirl but I am going to evangelize a book that I read that I loved (and that I borrowed from my local library, because I love to do so). The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman,
External imageis a ranging novel that moves from the beginning of the dotcom bubble and an initial, tight focus on two sisters, Emily and Jessamine Bach, to a cast of characters that the women come into contact with (and some they don’t). I picked it up because I’d read it’s based loosely on Sense and Sensibility, but it only borrows the premise in an oblique way. If you know the Austen work really well (and I’ve read it probably twelve times by now?), you can see the patterns there, but it doesn’t help or hurt to have that in your back pocket, or not. What this book takes from Austen is the rational and romantic sisters and their attendant dilemmas, but it spins out other stories as well.
Goodman’s novel has beautifully written, rich, textured prose, with real dialog that is both how people speak to each other and how we wish we could speak to each other. This is one of those books that is full of knowledge, with characters that can talk about Hegel and Hume and Ruskin without a reader being felt left behind if she (I) can’t. I’ve read a lot of books in the past year that have left me cold and a few books that I wanted to grate into my scramble eggs every day so that I could eat them up a little at a time and have them go into my blood and get into my skin, because I haven’t written anything of my own in so long and I just want to soak in the words that have affected me. What impressed me most about this novel was its narrative structure–it started with the Bach sisters and curled in on itself, revealed new characters slowly, stayed with them, and went back to the Bachs very organically. It was just beautifully constructed, as well as gorgeously written. There was a description of a character eating a peach that was stunningly simple but also just so right. That is what it is to eat a peach.
Here’s an excerpt. I finished by flashlight, because to have the lights on would mean a closed door (so as not to wake my nephew) and because I HAD TO FINISH IT. And then I had to eat it. Were I even more pretentious, I would change my handle to bibliophage.
The sisters’ voices were almost identical, laughing mezzos tuned in childhood to the same pitch and timbre. To the ear, they were twins; to the eye, nothing alike. Emily was tall and slender with her hair cropped short. She wore a pinstriped shirt, elegant slacks, tiny, expensive glasses. She was an MBA, not a programmer, and it showed. Magnified by her glasses, her hazel eyes were clever, guarded, and also extremely beautiful. Her features were delicate, her fingers long and tapered. She scarcely allowed her back to touch her chair, while Jess curled up with her legs tucked under her. Jess was small and whimsical. Her face and mouth were wider than Emily’s, her cheeks rounder, her eyes greener and more generous. She had more of the sun and sea in her, more freckles, more gold in her brown hair. She would smile at anyone, and laugh and joke and sing. She wore jeans and sweaters from Mars Mercantile, and her hair … who knew when she’d cut it last? She just pushed the long curls off her face.