I have just finished reading the best memoir I’ve read in a long time. It’s not often I finish a book and want to start right over on Page 1. Rarer still to purchase the book before I’ve even returned my library copy–I don’t want to be parted for even a second from my new friend, Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.
I liked the young Gabrielle, who runs wild after her parents’ divorce puts an end to [from the book blurb] “the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand…”
I’m trying to write about my own running-wild years, seeking out books that tackle that same terrain for ideas to guide my feet on the path. I find Hamilton’s writing elucidating.
When her wild years lead to [from the blurb] “the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent” she writes without self-pity, and also without self-aggrandizement. None of Anthony Bourdain’s swagger here, but plenty of the pirate chef culture of which he wrote in Kitchen Confidential.
Blood, Bones & Butter is really three books, as the title implies, and each turn takes you by surprise and then delivers all the suspense and jeopardy of great fiction. When Gabrielle suddenly gets accepted into an MFA fiction program, we finally discover why she can present you with felicitous observations like this, from her time working in a Breton cafe– “the tide ran out, and the fishing boats slumped in the mud attached to their slack anchors like leashed dogs sleeping in the yard.”
When Gabrielle takes us to [again the blurb] “the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends” I am so there–arm linked with Gabrielle in both her love for the Italy her Michele introduces her to, and the sisterhood of women in prickly-but-dividend-yielding marriages in which, sometimes, love of the in-laws is the only thing that keep us fighting for the marriage.
When two thirds of the way through her book Gabrielle writes, “the restaurant family is a perfect starter family. It’s such an accurate in-flight simulator that I have grown to feel sorry for anybody who enters parenthood and a domestic project without having first run a restaurant,” she almost makes me wish I had done either. What a strong, brave person, what a story, told [damn that book blurb] “with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.”
Of interest to memoirists, especially those who’ve been fluttering about Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Debacle” these last few days, is the Author’s Note that follows the final chapter.
You go, Gabrielle. I’ll read anything you write. And thank you for giving me the information I need to trust you to balance the true story and the story well told.