MY KITCHEN WARS by Betty Fussell


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A memoir by a woman who measures out her life in kitchen utensils, from her father’s orange-juice squeezer to an olive wood spoon used to stir “the stockpot of memories” simmered here. Fussell (The Story of Corn, 1992, etc.) begins with a tour of her kitchen, noting the odd implements in what the French call “the batterie de cuisine,” including crushers, beaters, scrapers and grinders. “Cooking is a brutal business,” she comments, moving on to describe a childhood, if not brutal, at least marked by tragedy and hardship. When she was two, her mother died from ingesting rat poison (“the mouth is the . . . portal to the Other Side,” notes Fussell much later). Moved from the care of loving grandparents into a new home with her father and stepmother, she spent most of the next decade sobbing, until she left for college. There she met and fell in love with then would-be writer Paul Fussell. Characterizing the beginning of her marriage as the “Invasion of the Waring Blenders” (they received two for wedding presents), she discovered sex and lobsters on her honeymoon and chafed at the restraints of being a post-WWII housewife while her husband studied for his Ph.D. Her own postgraduate studies were interrupted frequently as she followed her now professor-husband from university to university, bearing two children and finally settling in Princeton, N.J. There she and other faculty wives were caught in a culture of drinking, sensuous flirtations, and menus with French accents. Her affair with food lasted far longer than her affair with one of her husband’s colleagues. Unable to find a job teaching, she began to write about food, at first in newspapers and then in books. Her marriage ended when she confronted her husband in bed with another man, described in a chapter titled “Cold Cleavers.” Carefully and skillfully written, but curiously unfulfilling, like a rich cassoulet without seasoning. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1999
ISBN: 0-86547-577-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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