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Please change your bookmarks…

If you have kindly linked to ‘Read ’em and Eat’ on your blog, I am moving to my new home, The Ludic Reader

I am making the change because I want to steer away from questions and recipes and focus more on books and book-related things.

So, as of today I will no longer be updating this blog. I hope you’ll come visit me at my new home.

At A Loss For Words by Diane Schoemperlen

lossforwords

It sometimes happens that a book that no one particularly likes generates an excellent discussion. This was the case with Canadian writer Diane Schoemperlen’s book At A Loss For Words.  One woman in my book club actually said: “I knew you wouldn’t want me to finish it.”

I didn’t actually have any trouble finishing the book, but not because it was the most original or beautiful or innovative book I’ve ever read about the nature of love. The story is rife with cliches and prose so purple you might think you’re scarfing grape jelly by the jar.

An unnamed woman rekindles a relationship with an old boyfriend. She and this guy (also unnamed) had a  fairly serious thing which, one gathers, ended rather badly 30 years ago. She’s a writer, but since renewing her relationship with this guy, she’s unable to write. The story (such as it is) consists mostly of her lists of writing prompts and her e-mail correspondence with the man a sort of he said, she said only in this case it’s I said, you said.

To say that I didn’t believe a word of what they said to each other would be harsh, but really who talks like this?

“I do appreciate these thoughts. I want to say how much I welcome and treasure everything you say. Your letters are too wonderful! You life my spirits immeasurably with all that you write. You warm me up on this gray damp day”  (59).

As soon as this relationship is consummated, it begins to unravel. The woman starts clinging and the man starts pulling away and the denouement is neither original or shocking. In addition, you sort of wanted to shake her a little; I mean, she’s a successful writer and she’s not 20- couldn’t she sort of see this coming?

Still, who hasn’t been in love with the wrong guy…maybe even the wrong guy on more than one occasion. Hands up! So, while none of us were enamoured with Schoemperlen’s rather writerly tale, we had lots and lots of fun talking about rekindled passion, first love and our very first (after 10 years in book club) discussion of orgasms.

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And another

Questions

1. How possible is it to fall in love with the same person?

2. Is each new love the best love, cancelling out all others?

3. Do you think love makes us stupid? In what ways?

4. Think back to your first love and your early sexual experiences. Is it possible to rekindle/recapture those feelings?

5. How has e-mail changed the way you communicate?

6. Is this a ‘true’ story? Why or why not.

7. The big ‘reveal’ at the end…did it actually add anything to the book.

8. Do people really talk the way they do in this book? Why do you suppose Schoemperlen choose the language she did to express her characters’  feelings?

Food

Dense Chocolate Torte Gourmet

I got this recipe from Epicurious. Everyone loved it!

Yield: Makes 12 to 16 servings
Active Time: 25 min
Total Time: 10 1/2 hr (includes chilling)

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 large eggs, beaten

Equipment: a 9-inch springform pan; a large (18-inch) roll of heavy-duty foil

Accompaniment: whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 300&Deg;F with rack in middle. Wrap outside of cake pan in plastic wrap, then wrap tightly in a layer of foil.

Lightly butter pan, then dust with sugar, knocking out excess.

Heat 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool.

Melt chocolates in a large bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water (do not let bowl touch water), stirring occasionally, until melted. Stir together butter (2 sticks) and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in another bowl until combined. Stir butter mixture into melted chocolate. Then stir in sugar syrup. Gently stir in eggs (avoid making bubbles) until combined. 3Transfer to pan and bake in a hot water bath until center is almost set (it should barely wobble), about 45 to 50 minutes.

Now You See Him by Eli Gottlieb

nowyouseehim

I’m not quite sure how Now You See Him ended up on my radar; I’d never heard of its author, Eli Gottlieb, before. Ann Patchett declared that the book is a “true literary page-turner in which a string of startling revelations unfolds within the constructs of lush and beautiful prose.  It is at turns both heartbreaking and breathtaking.”

Now You See Him depicts the mid-life crisis (although I think the character is only in his mid 30s) of of its narrator, Nick Framingham. Things might not have been so complicated and devastating for Nick if his childhood best friend, Rob Castor, hadn’t murdered his girlfriend and then killed himself. Rob’s death, however, is the catalyst from which Nick begins that horrible self-examination which seems to usher in middle age. Rob was, in Nick’s eyes, the golden child: beautiful, charming, funny, irreverent, talented (he attained celebrity for writing a book of well received stories and then seemed to drop off the literary map).

Rob’s mystifying death – how could someone who seemed to have it all, kill someone and then themselves? – sets in motion Nick’s own journey. It’s a significant one because he has a wife and children and his grief pushes him away from them. He loves his wife, but no longer feels connected to her. Instead, he laments what might have been with Belinda, Rob’s vibrant, kooky, beautiful sister.

This is a book, it seems to me, about loss and losing oneself. Nick is so full of anger and regret and sadness, it tears at the very thing that should sustain him in this time of crisis: his family.  There are dark secrets in Now You See Him and as those secrets are revealed one at a time, instead of freeing Nick they seem to anchor him more firmly to the past.

Gottlieb is a beautiful writer, Patchett got that right. This story is layered and moving and, at times, difficult to read. An early sex scene between Nick and his wife, Lucy, is devastating – especially difficult to read, I suspect, for those readers who are married.

Now You See Him is a well-written, intelligent book on the nature of friendship, family and love.

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How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward

howtobelost

My copy of Amanda Eyre Ward’s novel How To Be Lost came with an unusual guarantee: the publisher promised to  refund your money if you didn’t like How To Be Lost as much as The Lovely Bones . I suppose at the time of its publication, comparison to the juggernaut that was The Lovely Bones would seem like high praise indeed. But I won’t be writing to collect my refund, thanks very much. I loved How To Be Lost and, in fact, I think I liked it even more than The Lovely Bones which, in my opinion, started off with a bang and ended with a whimper.

Ward’s novel concerns the Winters family, specifically the Winters daughters: Caroline, Madeline and Ellie. We meet the eldest, Caroline, first. She’s a hard-drinking cocktail waitress in New Orleans trying to figure out how she’s going to tell her mother, Isabelle, that she’s not coming home for Christmas.

Home isn’t a happy place for Caroline. Home brings back horrible memories of her alcoholic father, her miserable mother and the disappearance of her youngest sister, Ellie. Still, duty calls.

It’s on this visit home that Caroline’s mother shows her a picture in a People magazine. As soon as Caroline sees it, she knows. It’s her baby sister.

How To Be Lost really is a story about people trying to find their way in both extraordinary circumstances (a potential love interest for Caroline has lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks and he is trying to move on with his life) and mundane circumstances (the novel is peopled with characters who spend their lives hunched over beer or whiskey in a variety of scummy bars).

Some people don’t like first person narrative, but I do, especially if the narrator is honest. Caroline is self-destructive and selfish and afraid. Her journey to find the woman in the picture is ill-advised and necessary because by making the journey she is making her first real attempt to leave the past behind.

One of the things I hated most about The Lovely Bones was Sebold’s decision to flash forward into the future. That rarely works for me. Ward doesn’t do this. Her ending, if anything, is a dangling thread. Her ending, for me, was perfect.

This is a gem of a book.

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Another Review

Reading Guide

Author’s Site