Blood, Bones, & Butter is really two books. The first two thirds of the book is about Gabrielle Hamilton’s journey from childhood to Prune chef/owner. The remainder is about her unhappy marriage. The former was amazing. The latter shouldn’t have been published.
From childhood to Prune
I won’t give a comprehensive review. Just read this part. It’s great. Here are some observations.
I enjoyed every word from page 1 to 201. Both the sentences and stories were finely composed.
The first chapter made me hungry and jealous. It made me anxious to provide my daughter with her own set of happy memories. I usually find this kind of writing boring. In this case it got me hooked. Regular readers of memoirs will know what I mean.
I found her stories from her graduate writing program very funny. Here’s one passage that rang true (p. 107):
In the university program where I was supposed to be emancipating myself from the kitchen, preparing myself to go back to New York having at least answered the question of my own potential, the novelty and thrill had thoroughly worn off. I could not find the fun or the urgency in the eventless and physically idle academic life. It was so lethargic and impractical and luxurious. I adored reading and writing and having my brain crushed; but those soft ghostly people lounging around the lounge in agony over their “texts,” endlessly theorizing over experiences they would never have, made me ache to get back into the kitchen, which I increasingly found practical and satisfying. The work may not have held much meaning and purpose, but I was gunning the motor of my car to get off campus and get to it each day.
An unhappy marriage
I have several issues with the story of her marriage. First, the story isn’t finely honed. The laser-sharp focus I felt in the first “book” dissipates in starting with the chapter on the women in cooking panel at the Culinary Institute of America. Second, the story wasn’t resolved. My preference is for memoirs to provide closure. The closure doesn’t have to be happy, e.g. Adeline Yen Mah’s Falling Leaves. To feel I’ve gotten it, I need to analysis, insight, and a well-considered accounting. Instead I was force-fed an oppressive sequence of details.
One speculative explanation is that her life was too messy at the time of writing. According to the New York Post,
The 2011 James Beard Award Best Chef in New York City winner wrote a recent best-seller about her stint as a lesbian before marrying Italian doctor Michele Fuortes, a teacher and researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College. The book describes a troubled marriage. But Gabrielle, 45, does not mention she has been cooking up an affair with her sister Melissa’s architect husband, Michael Hagerty.
The other parties don’t deny this. My inference is that the story is true. I feel bad for Melissa, especially since she was portrayed as a really good sister. What else can I say? Maybe the story would have tighter if publication had been pushed back and Hamilton would have had the time to process the affair and the end of her marriage. That is my unskilled assessment. In any event, pushing through the material was unrewarding and I eventually gave up.