Book: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Genre: fiction, magical realism
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 2011
Summary: The title character in The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is Ginny, a woman who would probably be placed on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, if her parents hadn’t carefully orchestrated her life away from that sort of diagnosis and labeling. But, now, her parents have died. Her sister isn’t convinced that Ginny can take care of herself and Ginny isn’t so sure herself, especially when her cooking begins to conjure ghosts.
Thoughts: I read The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry for BookClubSandwich. In the introductory post, Andi of Estella’s Revenge confesses that she didn’t finish the book. Which turns out to be a really terrific way to start a book discussion, because it invites me to figure out why I found the book so compelling.
A lot of the push-me pull-me force of this book, I think, is the narrator’s voice. Andi described it this way:
Her nervousness and social anxiety just made me feel nervous and anxious and drew the book out to a point that was almost painful for me to read.
I experienced that as well. I suspect going through it quickly helped my reading experience because Ginny has the sort of brain that is intriguing to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, I got mesmerized by this narrator’s voice and had difficulty putting it down. I’ve had that experience with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon and Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser. But I liked The Kitchen Daughter better because it’s an adult narrator with an adult life to figure out how to handle using a brain that functions differently than other people’s. In that sense, it reminded me of Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, about a man who suffers from a stroke in the prime of life and it takes a quiet Quaker nurse to hear what he can no longer say.
Some of the things I really enjoyed from Ginny’s narrative voice:
- the way she describes people’s voices in terms of tastes
- how she uses thoughts of the processes of cooking to calm herself
- her knowledge of what other words are on the same page of the dictionary as the one that currently interests her
Only about a third of the way through the book, I wrote this note to myself:
I think the autism spectrum could logically be expanded to include all of us and wonder how that would affect the way we function in the world and how we treat people on the furthest edges of the spectrum.
In the end, that became an even more pronounced theme of the book. Rather than being my unique and earth-shattering revelation, it was the one that the author was gently leading us to all along.
Appeal: Given Andi’s experience, I suggest reading this book at a time when you can relax and sink into it. This is a bathtub book, not a carry around in your purse to read at odd moments book. Fiction foodies will find lots to like from the ways cooking and food permeate the experience of reading this book. This will also appeal to readers of magical realism, with a few appearances of ghosts who play important roles in the development of the story and Ginny’s character.
Mostly off topic (although there is a community garden in The Kitchen Daughter), I thought my Weekend Cooking pals would appreciate a photo of the first tomato from my garden this summer. It’s an heirloom called Cour di Bue (seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds). The taste is intensely tomato. Delicious for eating raw or in salads.
Visit Andi’s post at Estella’s Revenge for comments and a Mr. Linky list with other reviews, BookClubSandwich: The Kitchen Daughter. Also, keep an eye out for Kim’s wrap-up post at Sophisticated Dorkiness.
The Beth Fish Reads blog has more Weekend Cooking posts, starting with a peek at cookbook bookshelves: Weekend Cooking: A Look at My Cookbook Shelves 2.