Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Recipe Club Offers a Tale of Friendship Told Through Recipes

Friendship and food abounds in the novel The Recipe Club from authors Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel. Written in a series of letters, the novel takes readers on the journey of a friendship as it unfolds through several decades.

Val and Lilly have been friends since childhood, often apart but always together in spirit and in the letters they write one another. Until, that is, a falling out in their college years causes a lengthy rift in their relationship.

After the death of a parent, the two begin tentatively writing letters again -- this time in the form of emails. In fits and starts Val and Lilly begin trying to mend the break in their friendship, which takes readers back to the early years and finally to the event that caused their not speaking for decades.

I loved the examination of women's friendship that the novel offered, as well as the recipes included. Israel and Garfinkel chose perfect names for the recipes exchanged through the years, from Lovelorn Lasagna to Forgiveness Tapenade. I found it difficult initially to keep Val and Lilly separate in my mind; because of the format of the book -- written entirely in letters and recipes -- the characters sometimes blended into one another.

It was also difficult at first to understand why the pair wrote letters via mail, even when they were living in the same town and ostensibly could see one another frequently. Then, however, I remembered my own childhood -- not so long ago. During summer vacations and other times, I, too, wrote letters to school friends. In this age of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, letter-writing seems foreign to us.

Towards the end of the novel, the point of view switches from first-person via letters and email to third-person omniscient. The change was disconcerting when it first occurred, but eventually worked for the novel. The climax and ending were more effective written in traditional prose than they would have been written in letters and emails. The switch caused the ending scenes to have an immediacy and urgency letters would have lacked.

I read The Recipe Club while in Africa, and I ended up leaving a copy of the novel for my sister-in-law to read and use for its recipes. In a fit of book-lover-induced dementia, I had bought two copies of this novel in two separate trips to McKay's Used Books. I still have a hardback version for myself (so that I can try out the recipes, too), and now Holly has one, as well. I highly recommend this book -- it was the perfect combination of a good story and an excellent cookbook for later use.

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