My family took our annual beach vacation last week, so I loaded up on a bunch of books and prepared to while away the week under an umbrella. Which, for the most part, I did. In fact, I read everything that I took with me. Really, it’s hard to beat a week at the beach with good company, good weather, a pretty beach, and a stack of books.
I read some really fun books, like Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer by Warren St. John and two collections of essays, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant (about food and cooking for one, starting with the eponymous essay by the wonderful Laurie Colwin) and Altared (about conflicted feelings on having a wedding). I finally got the chance to read the much-hyped American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (liked it, thought it was better than either of her earlier novels and was disappointed when it ended). I even read a few Serious Literary Things like On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and Old School by Tobias Wolff. I had been disturbed yet enthralled by McEwan’s Atonement, so I was expecting a good read from On Chesil Beach and was not disappointed. I was completely captivated by Old School, and not just because it took some serious shots at the ghastly Ayn Rand. Why have I never read any Tobias Wolff before? I must rectify that and soon.
But one book that I packed left me cold. Actually, it started out promisingly. How to Cook a Tart by Nina Killham is sort of a culinary mystery/chick lit book, which is the sort of thing that I adore for lightweight reading. You know, like the Diane Mott Davidson mystery novels about Goldy the Caterer in Colorado. And I was happy to read luscious descriptions of delicious food prepared with lots and lots of butter and good wine, and I was amused by the characters (a family with a frustrated husband, a wife who is a chef and cookbook author and a teenage daughter and the mistress of the husband). Except then the book took a scary turn from fun to just plain sick and bizarre, and not in a good way. I’ll spoil it for you, since you’re not going to read it. A neighbor kills the mistress sort of by accident and leaves her body in the family’s kitchen. So the wife (the chef) dismembers the woman’s body with her chainsaw so she can dispose of the evidence because she thought her husband killed her and she didn’t want to live without her husband. Yes, you read that correctly. She dismembered the woman’s body with her chainsaw.
Then the two of them go off to dispose of the body in various trash bags while the teenaged daughter feeds the head of the dead woman to her snake so that no one finds out what happened. Um. Um. Um, hello? Genre shift? Complete whiplash? Way to ruin my buttery food buzz with some graphic murder and dismemberment better suited to a true crime book. And it wasn’t even funny in a sick way a la Hannibal Lecter. It was just…gross. And it annoyed me because it ruined the rest of the book, which had been fun. Grr. Well, I only paid two bucks for it. And if there was only one dud in a stack of eight or nine books, that’s not such a bad average.
So now I’m back, and I’m re-reading Julie and Julia in preparation for seeing the new movie that just came out. At least in that book, the only things being dismembered are raw chickens and a few lobsters.