Saturday, August 13, 2011
Book Review: "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman
Sisters Emily and Jessamine ("Jess") Bach couldn't be more different. Emily, who feels a responsibility to watch over her younger sister, is the tech-savvy CEO of an internet startup company, while Jess is a dreamy, romantic graduate student in philosophy and a passionate environmentalist, who has no desire to follow a straight-line path as her sister does. The Cookbook Collector follows the Bach sisters from 1999-2002, as well as their family, friends, coworkers and even two Hasidic rabbis, as they fall in and out of love, deal with crises in work and life, and ponder questions of trust, sacrifice, family and following your heart. What is actually valuable, the characters wonder: a company's stock, a person's promise, a forest of redwoods, or a collection of rare cookbooks?
I am a very big fan of Allegra Goodman's novels (the marvelous Intuition is one of her best), and I found that she hadn't missed a step with The Cookbook Collector. It is a slightly overstuffed but emotionally and intellectually compelling book that draws you in, even when all of the characters aren't wholly sympathetic ones. The book definitely picks up steam after the first third, because Goodman introduces so many different characters that you just want to get back to those with whom you've already become invested, but in the end, she ties everything together fairly well, although perhaps a little too neatly. I don't know if it was Goodman's imagery (much of the book is set in Berkeley, CA, and she describes the San Francisco area quite poetically) or the complexity of her characters, but I thought this book was beautifully written and very satisfying. A terrific example of storytelling.