The Cookbook Collector: A Novel
The Dial Press, 2010
394 pp., $26.00
Having tackled the ethics and mores of the lab in Intuition, Allegra Goodman turns to the ethics and mores of the late-90s dot.com bubble in what I think is her best novel yet, The Cookbook Collector. I say her best novel yet in part because, often, it takes me a while to start caring about Goodman characters; here they had me from the first chapter.
At the heart of the novel are two twentysomething sisters: Emily, the head honcho of a startup poised for dazzling success, and Jess, a philosophy grad student who works part-time at a rare-book store. They have a tendency to pick at each other, Emily going overboard into big-sister mother-hen mode occasionally, but are always brought back together by their favorite pastime: dishing about their stepmother and their tiny half-siblings. During the course of the novel, both women make a little more peace living with the ghost of their mother, who died when they were young, and both stumble around in love, delightfully so.
The Cookbook Collector revolves around questions of treachery: a niece who worries that she's betraying her uncle, two men who betray their beloved (not necessarily in the usual way). And, of course, there's the titular cookbook collection; it comes to obsess Jess, and devotees of old cookery texts (I confess to being one) will delight in the references to the grande dames of 18th-century cookery: Amelia Simmons, Hannah Glasse …. All in all, vintage Goodman.
Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School.
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