Pat Conroy with Suzanne Williamson Pollak
How does he do it? How does he make love and humor sound sincere with a vocabulary writing teachers would call pretentious, sometimes nearing trite? . . .my passel of fine and comely wives.(?) How does he juggle the main plot of cooking and how food has changed his life with the strong subplot that teaches writing techniques? Perhaps the answer is the same way he has written some of the most finely told stories of contemporary life on his shelf of published books.
The “how” questions of this book are the puzzles of technique and true voice writers individually develop by whatever means available. Conroy’s voice is worth reading for a new writer, even in a cookbook. Notice example, context, and tone in this book right along with how many cardamom seeds to count.
A pleasure of this book is the vicarious inclusion in the colorful, joyous life Conroy has created for himself and allowed us to temporarily join. The bursting personalities he describes, along with the occasional name dropping, is a vicarious pleasure to this suburban, tract home resident. Other pleasures are the sensual, story-laced cooking lessons and recipes. A few I’ll try, a few I’ll pass (I had my own version of Dunbar Macaroni during childhood and early marriage that I never had Conroy’s affection for), and a few, like crab cakes, I’ve been making for years, but now I know their poetic attachment for Conroy.
A mental note I took away from this book is how clearly Conroy felt mistreated, defeated and unloved by his father during childhood and though it was defining, it was not limiting. His life story appears to be mistreatment objectified to success. Main plot: How to increase the pleasure of gumbo. Subplot: How to forgive, accept, and honor love without ever saying the words. Observing technique and being able to learn where you can is all a book presents though that can be the most precious gift of all.
A disappointment of this book is the total lack of recipe table of contents or index, Unless the reader takes the time to make a personal reference of recipes, they are lost when the last page is read. And so perhaps is Conroy’s invitation to join him as he closes the door when we leave.