Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: The Inheritance of Loss

I have read books that sacrifice plot for character or character for plot, but this is the first book I've ever read that sacrifices both for setting. Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss is beautifully written, full of vivid descriptions from the Himalayas to the streets of New York City. To say it moves slowly would be generous,. The story doesn't really start until the last fifty pages or so. The only character I had any fondness for was the dog and there's no resolution to her story.

I only purchased this book because it won the Man Booker Prize in 2006. I only finished it because of a Goodreads review that said it had one of the best endings she'd ever read. I am boggled on both points. Basically, this author spent 350 pages meticulously describing an empty room.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: Losing Charlotte

In Losing Charlotte, a family deals with the sudden loss of the eldest daughter after she has given birth to twins. In the months that follow, the family tries to adjust. The typically unshakeable father takes to bed, the mother begins planning an elaborate memorial that seems to mark Charlotte's childhood, and the younger sister travels from Kentucky to NYC to help  her brother-in-law care for newborns.

Younger sister, Knox, finds herself plunged into a domestic life she has tried hard to avoid. She suspects her actions are out of guilt, for not being a "good sister." As Knox wrestles with what that means, we get glimpses of their complicated relationship- simultaneously passionately close and, at times, frustratingly distant. Knox tries to understand who her sister was and what she'd thought of their relationship. At the same time, she's trying to figure out who she will become without her sister to measure herself against.

This story does not gloss over grief and end with a tidy, happy resolution. There is truth here and the pain is palpable. You get the sense that these are real people who will deal with the reality of this loss for the rest of their lives.

In an author interview, Heather Clay says she is inspired by: "Anything about that family ache, about what’s unsaid, misunderstood, the simple and tragic passage of time... " That's what she gives her readers with this book.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Recipe: Pad See Ew

Years ago in New Hampshire, my friend Kim introduced me to Thai food. I fell in love with something they just called "Pan Fried Noodles" and when the restaurant went out of business, it took me years to locate the dish that was the equivalent in other Thai restaurants: Pad See Ew.

It's really tricky to recreate this delicious recipe in you own kitchen because the "dark soy sauce" isn't typically sold in American grocery stores. You need to go to an Asian market and find some "Kecap Manis", which is the key to the special sweet flavor of Pad See Ew.

I went to Lee Lee's International Supermarket. I read that "light soy sauce" is just the same as the regular soy sauce that's easily found at your local Safeway, but I wasn't taking any chances and picked up some of that as well. Google turned up a bunch of recipes, each slightly different. This is the one I used:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Book Review: String Bridge

Jessica Bell's novel String Bridge tells the story of Melody, who gave up her life as a musician when she had her daughter with her music promoter husband. At first, it hadn't even felt like a sacrifice, but as Tessa turns three, Melody begins to feel like she has lost an essential part of her identity. The dual role of wife and mother is no longer feeling enough.

Add to that doubts about her husband's fidelity and job stress and you have the recipe for an unhappy life. And Melody can't trust her emotions because she's worried that she may have inherited bipolar disorder from her mother who was diagnosed at around the same age.

Bell does a good job describing Melody's conflicting emotions and her memories of a difficult childhood with a mentally ill parent. There are some tangents here and the ending seemed unnecessarily dramatic, but it's a compelling story that may resonate with women trying to define themselves beyond motherhood.