Monday, May 05, 2008

Book Review: Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs

I should probably preface this review by saying that my taste in literature typically belongs to the non-fiction and cookbook shelves of the book store. However, I am an avid reader of anything by Alexander McCall Smith and John Irving (two very different authors, I must note).

Importantly, prior to reading the uncorrected manuscript of the review book, I had just completed Vikram Seth's "Two Lives." Mind you, non-fiction or fiction, I will read anything Seth puts to paper. If you've never read his work, please read "The Golden Gate." It's a brilliant novel written completely in verse. Seth's also the author of the world's longest novel, "A Suitable Boy" (well worth several reads).

This is probably the toughest review to do because as a writer, I know the time and effort it takes to research and write a piece of merit. However, since I was asked to review Kate Jacobs' "Comfort Food" for this blog, I will do my level best to be honest and constructive without brutality.

While I am sure there are folks who will find this a pleasurable, light, quick read, I did not enjoy the book. As I said previously, I had just finished "Two Lives," which is an account of Seth's aunt's and uncle's lives told through letters and interviews. It's a pretty heavy book, and perhaps I thought "Comfort Food" might serve as a palate cleanser prior to my next Seth book, "From Heaven Lake."

Regrettably, I could not identify with Jacobs' characters. They seemed shallow and thin to me in the shadow of the Seths. Yes, I know we're talking about real-life people compared to characters in a novel. And, to that I say, let's turn to Alexander McCall Smith's "44 Scotland Street" series for a non-fiction comparison. I find his characters to have incredible depth and voice (even the dog Cyril) -- and his are written within a few pages each day as a serial in "The Scotsman" newspaper.

I guess I like to find characters sympathetic. While I do have enormous sympathy for Gus' having lost her husband (I shudder to think what kind of shape I'd be in if I lost John), I just didn't feel like I wanted to know her better. During the whole book, it seemed as if I were a long arm's length away from an intimacy with any of the characters.

The story will appeal to many, I'm sure, because so many of us are familiar with the Food Network and its stars, as well as Martha Stewart's shows (I love Everyday Baking). But sadly, I thought it was trite and predictable all the way to the end. I wish I hadn't. I guess I'm a very demanding reader.

But please, as I feel with any review, don't just take my word for it. When the book becomes available in your local library, please check it out and read it for yourself. Maybe if I hadn't been steeped in such heavy subject matter before reading "Comfort Food" I might have enjoyed it thoroughly.

It's just not my flavor.

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