The Kitchen is the Center of the Home

Starting from Scratch. Susan Gilbert-Collins. Touchstone. 320 pp. $15.

What’s the worst possible thing that could happen on the day you defend your doctorate dissertation? Olivia Tschetter could tell you. On this particular day, a day only she and her mother, Vivian, knew about (they were going to surprise the rest of the family), Vivian dies of a stroke.

The Good: Gilbert-Collins handles grief as elegantly as a souffle–with intention and delicate respect. In the days immediately following Vivian’s death, Olivia turns to food, a passion she shares with her mother, as a means of staying connected to the person with whom she felt closest.

“Olivia, you cannot continue on this way. You cannot sit here doing nothing with your days but making veal osso buco for lunch.”

“Actually, I used lamb shanks.”

“–and coq au vin for dinner–and–and beef Wellington for breakfast.”

“I have never made beef Wellington for breakfast,” Olivia said coldly. She had in fact eaten some for breakfast, just last week–Father had, too (he was looking away guilty now)–but only because it was left from the night before. They had a hard time finishing all their leftovers these days.

Anyhow, it hadn’t quite turned out, and therefore, Olivia felt, shouldn’t count. She definitely lacked Vivian’s touch with puff pastry. In fact, she ought to have used store-bought; this thought depressed her heavily.

The Bad: While on the whole delectable, parts of the novel fall into place almost too easily. Olivia, as a favor to her sister and in lieu of anything else to do, walks into Meals on Wheels as a one-time substitute and walks out with a job. And, coincidentally enough, a woman on her route happens to hold secrets about her family.

The Ugly: Sooner or later, at the end of grief or quite possibly part of the process itself, we must move on. This is where the true ugliness of death lies: Vivian will not be around to celebrate birthday cakes, graduation caps or wedding gowns. She remains a mere character, alive only in her children and the recipes she leaves for them to cook. This, undoubtedly, is the beauty of the book. Vivian, dead from the beginning, will never die, so long as she rises delicately in the aroma of freshly cooked raviolis smothered in a rich marinara sauce.


About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

What did you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Imagine Our Life

Creative living with a toddler!

Bob on Books

Thoughts on books, reading, and life

Tropics of Meta

historiography for the masses

dutch sisters create

As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

Kate Brauning

YA author, Editor, Activist, Enthusiast, Fangirl


Covering Atlanta far better than MARTA


thoughts on the stories we love and love to hate

Ben and Becky in Indonesia

Adventures abound!

%d bloggers like this: