Sunday, June 12, 2016
Book Review...Two Months Later
Last night, I finally finished this book. That I started over two months ago.
Here were my thoughts a few pages in...
The book is written by Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher's great-nephew. So, through his narrative, his notes, his interviews (maybe?), and his memories, he is charged with the description and discussion of a pivotal year in a pivotal place...in which "American Taste is Reinvented".
While I'm excited about the topic of this book, I'm less excited about the narrative voice...and I hope it doesn't spoil the book. But...
The Prologue is 20 pages. It begins with "On a cool August morning in 2009, I drove up a sloping, narrow driveway in Glen Ellen, California, on my way to visit the past." And it ends with "As I read it, I knew: I had found the key to my story and to this book."
Twenty pages of reason and rationale. As if Luke Barr feels he must not only establish the premise of the entire book, but his credibility as well. I suppose it makes sense...after all, he is a rather marginal player in this story. But twenty pages is a lot for a Prologue, I feel. But, I'll read it and maybe my judgments will change.
287 pages. Not too terribly long. Still took me a really long time to finish. And at the end, I did a lot of skimming to Just. Be. Done. That's not a good sign, kids.
The premise, the idea is a great one. The Sixties in America, in the food sense, was tough times. Convenience was important, as was speed. Technique, flavor, quality all suffered. Fast-food was becoming a big deal, as were packaged, processed foodstuffs. Bad news Bears.
So, when Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney, MFK Fisher and bunch of other big-time food people get together in the South of France in December 1970, the stage is set for Luke Barr calls "The Reinvention of American Taste". It sounds dramatic...like the Yalta Conference, or something. But really, it's just a bunch of friends getting together, drinking wine, and making food together.
And I love that story too. And I would have been content to read a book about a group of Food Greats Hanging Out Being Awesome, if that's what the premise had been. Barr had access to MFK's diaries (he's her great-nephew), and therefore should have been to tell a wonderful story. But I dunno, some parts seemed more fleshed out than others, some people seemed to be painted more colorfully than others....and in the end, it was just a uneven tumble of character sketches, letter excerpts, and place/food descriptions. Oh, and the last twenty-five pages! Ugh. Barr brought us back full circle as he was visiting La Pitchoune (the Provence residence of the Childs) in 2010. I didn't mind the recap of what had happened in the interim between 1971 and 2010...most of the major players had died but had left published memoirs, legacies, etc. But then Barr subjects us to his attempt at a recreating the foods and moods of December 1970 in Provence. He introduces a bunch of new people into the scene...I develop no relationship with them and the one I have with the author is tenuous anyway. To finish the book, I have to put up with his reflections and reminiscences...laced with so much nostalgia - and why!? He wasn't there! Oh, but yeah, he did bring his grandmother with him - MFK's sister - who wasn't even really a part of any of this food scene either.
Oy. But, I finished it. I'm done. I will say that reading this book makes me want to reread Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.