Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Comfort food

Comfort Me With Apples is the second, less satisfying of Ruth Reichl's three memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Not Becoming My Mother. Comfort picks up where Tender left off, with Reichl and her husband Doug living in a house on Channing Way in Berkeley that's one step up from a commune. Reichl is still wrestling with guilt about having a regular job, surrounded by housemates who sneeringly reject her bourgeois aspirations (although they don't mind snarfing up her food and leaving the dishes for her to do).

Meanwhile, her husband's art career is taking off and taking him further away. Reichl ends up tumbling into bed with a fellow food critic who embodies everything she wants to be - rich, self-assured, and confident in the snootiest of restaurants with the sneeriest maitre d's.

Reichl and her lover bounce across France, then she returns to Berkeley and her flourishing career, although her marriage is crumbling. Eventually Reichl ends her affair and starts another one, separating from her first husband and moving in with the man who would become her second.

Comfort, like Tender, includes recipes that are emotionally significant to Reichl, but the focus is much less on the food than in Tender and more on Reichl's life. She's already found her calling, but the rest of her life refuses to fall in line, and Reichl loses her beloved father and an adopted daughter before the book culminates in a happier ending.

Although Tender was wince-inducingly real, there's something oddly superficial about Comfort. Even the chapter dealing with Reichl's protracted and painful court battle to keep the daughter she and her second husband adopted feels rushed. Instead of the slow, sensual language of Tender, Comfort find Reichl rocketing to China, Thailand, and France and unfortunately leaving behind the sweet, painful introspection that made Tender such a delight.

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