Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mmm Mmm Good

Thanks to the recommendation of Susan at Pages Turned, I read the delightful book The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen. I knew from the first few pages that this book and I were going to get along just fine. The story is about Hugo Whittier, a man in his 40s with Buerger's Disease. If Hugo would stop smoking he would be fine, but he refuses to do so and thus faces is impending death. He plans on living out his days in solitude at Waverly, the family homestead, and when the pain gets too bad to bear, he plans on killing himself. His solitude is broken first by his older brother Dennis who was kicked out by his wife, Marie. Not long after Dennis arrives, Hugo's estranged wife, Sonia, moves in too. She has with her Bellatrix, the child she bore from an affair she won't admit to while she and Hugo were still together. The book is written as Hugo's notebook journals. Hugo writes as though he were being put upon. He can't stand having these people in the house which is only partially his, making noise and putting the dishes away in the wrong place and in the wrong way. At one point he writes, "Dennis has no idea where the clean dishes go, and for that I consider fratricide." Waverly is a large house and he tries to avoid everyone as much as possible in spite of their attempts to draw him out. He hides in his room reading M.F.K. Fisher and translating Montaigne. He feels a special connection with Montaigne:

Montaigne was someone I would have happily drunk and eaten with anywhere, in any rough-hewn country inn or swank city establishment. He liked to eat and drink too much as I do. His views concerning solitude are comfortably close to my own (except for his unfathomable admiration of religious nuts). He was levelheaded and not stupid. He appreciated and even celebrated both the solitary life and the willed death, and respected those who embraced either, or both.
Hugo's culinary skills are admirable and the descriptions of food in this book are detailed and loving. Even though I have been a vegan for over ten years, I found myself craving cheese of all things when I finished this book. Though I sometimes wondered how Hugo could recall conversations to such perfection, this minor point is easily overlooked. Hugo is not an entirely reliable narrator which provides an often delightful skewed perspective as well as some suspense. It is also a fabulous book when it comes to description not just when it's about food. If you are a writer and want to see what the adage "show, don't tell" looks like, read this book. One of my many favorite descriptive lines is this one: "He smelled of a vaguely froggy-went-a-courtin' kind of aftershave." This book is also a great read around the holidays. Hugo is convinced to make a Christmas feast for everyone which he sees as his "Last Supper." Plus, you can read this book and laugh when Hugo says the things to his family that you only dream about saying. Bon apetit!