Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seance Cooking

The book club I belong to has its next meeting a week from tonight, so I was relieved when my copy of the book we're going to discuss finally arrived from Amazon on Monday. I just finished reading it.

All of us are supposed to bring suggestions for the next book to each meeting, and we vote on which candidate to read next. The club is full of people who are (in my sister Sue's words) in "the helping professions," so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that this month's book is The Kitchen Daughter, a novel by Jael McHenry about a women with Asperger's syndrome.

The member who suggested the book told us that the protagonist used cooking as a way to shield herself from and cope with the outside world.  This bald description, however, does not do the novel justice.  Ginny, the main character, doesn't just use cooking to deal with the land of the living.  At the start of the book she discovers she can summon ghosts by cooking their recipes.  Her parents have just died, so she uses her discovery to try to solve the family mysteries they left behind.

Ginny is farther down the road toward autism than the Asperger's sufferer I lived with, but her reluctance to look others in the face, her sudden obsessions and equally sudden lack of interest, and her emotional overreaction to things that others wouldn't even notice were eerily familiar.  If the author isn't actually close to someone with Asperger's, she has done her research.  The book goes far beyond merely uncovering the quirks of Asperger behavior, though.  The language, particularly when Ginny cooks or thinks about cooking, is rich and evocative; I could almost smell the food she put together.  At times the book's exploration of how family members hurt each other most when they are trying their hardest to help was acutely painful, and even when it's not the tension and uncertainty Ginny feels as she fights her sister's attempts to sell the family home and move Ginny out (for her own good, of course) left me pretty tense myself.  I can't say much about the ending without giving it away, but it seemed both surprising and right.

I had intended to read this book and then donate it to charity, but I liked it so well that I'm making a permanent place for it on my bookshelves - and not just for the delicious recipes it contains.

[Amanda:]"I want to talk about your problem."...
[Ginny: ]"I don't have a problem."
"You do."
"I have a personality.  That's what I have."
~Jael McHenry, The Kitchen Daughter

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