Jonathan's Franzen's Freedom was the "it" book when it came out a little over a year ago. Everyone was reading it and writing about it (a literary masterpiece or totally overrated, which camp do you fall in?) I pretty much only read paperbacks unless someone gives me a hardback (yes, I am in the process of evaluating whether I am ready for the switch to a Kindle), so I was feeling very left out waiting for the paperback. I was a big devotee of Franzen's first book, the Corrections, and was perturbed to have to wait nine years for his next book, and then have to wait a year more because of my stubborn insistence of paperbacks (and it isn't just cheapness, ask my friends, I am not a cheap girl you should see what I drop on a pair of shoes). Anyway, I got Freedom as soon as it came out it paperback and quickly devoured it. My take? I am not in either camp - I thought it was neither a literary masterpiece or grossly overrated. I really enjoyed the book, but I must say I did like Jennifer Egan's Goon Squad a whole lot more (and there was some controversy when her book won the Pulitzer Prize that Franzen had been robbed). What I think is wonderful about Franzen's book is how it is both a detailed character study of the troubled marriage of two fairly unlikable people and to some extent a historical novel - a depiction of our country during the Bush years. The problem with the book blogwise, however, is that it was just impossible to come up with any food for it - it is beyond some cute food analogy really. I thought about it for a bit and I was stumped, asked around, my friends who read it were stumped too. So, as I turn to write my blog post on this chilly fall weekend, the last in October, I have decided that for this book I will make whatever I damn well feel like making, since I have the freedom to do that. Et viola, this seasonally appropriate Pumpkin Cake, cause who isn't obsessed with all things pumpkin the last weekend of October.
The Widower's Tale is another winnner from author Julia Glass, the author of Three Junes, The Whole World Over and I See You Everywhere. Glass once again turns to the delicate and complicated relationship of families as the subject of this novel. The main character of The Widowers Tale is Percival (Percy) Darling (what a name, right?) a 60-something retired Harvard librarian who is a cranky, odd New Englander. His wife passed away many years ago, leaving him on his own to raise his two young daughters. Although he is very much a part of his adult daughters' lives, his relationship with both of them is fraught under the surface with unsaid things stemming from their mother's death. As the novel begins, Percy has just opened up an old Barn his beautiful property by a pond in a leafy/wealthy/sort of rural suburb of Boston to the local pre-school. The opening of this pre-school sets in motion a series of events that causes trauma to both Percy and his entire family. More about the book and this classic after the jump.
The heroine of Karen Russel's Swamplandia - Ava Bigtree - is the most unique, remarkable and heartbreaking character I have encountered in a long time. Swamplandia is Russell's first novel and in it she creates a vivid and strange world that seems to some extent not of this world, but of course it could very likely exist in Florida, a place I associate with weirdness. The Big Tree family (who, btw, are not actually Native American despite the name), run a gator park and show in the Everglades. It is, obviously, a quirky family - there is Ava, the youngest, her older sister Ossie who communicates with ghost, her rebellious brother Kiwi who is tired of island life, her father "Chief Bigtree" who runs the place, her grandfather who started the park, and the star of the show, her mother Hilola Bigtree, a champion gator wrestler. The book documents the disintegration of the family and park after Ava's mother dies. Much of the book centers around a perilous journey through the everglades/keys that Ava takes in small boat, and the real sense you got from both her journey and the description of the island that the family lives on is that it is a muddy, swampy, dense and wild place. I knew since it takes place in Florida I needed to do something with key limes, so I decided on a muddy key lime tart - made with an Oreo crust and swirled with melted chocolate. I purposefully made the chocolate swirls messy because Swamplandia is messy!
Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule is the story of the down and out characters at a second rate (maybe even third rate) horse track in West Virginia. The really standout feature of the book is Gordon's use of racetrack lingo. All of the characters speak this slang-like language, and it admittedly took me a while to get use to it (and understand what was going on). I do think I may have missed some things because of this, but it really gave the book, for lack of a better word "atmosphere." Horse racing is a dirty and superstitious game, and throughout the book there was a sense of foreboding and danger - something bad was going to happen to one of the characters - it was inevitable. These beans were inspired by one of the main characters - Maggie. We first meet her through the eyes of an old African American horse trainer, who simply refers to her as the frizzy haired girl. Maggie has come to the track with her boyfriend Tommy Hansel - a handsome trainer with a dangerous side. Maggie seems in over her head, but loves the horses and is good with them. In one scene, Maggie makes a pot of beans as a sort of call to bring Tommy home to her when he had gone away to "see about a horse." The recipe she recited was irresistible to me...