Exhaustive biography gets behind the myths the acclaimed food writer herself perpetuated about her life, loves, and travels.
Fisher practically invented her own literary genre, argues Reardon (M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters, 1994, etc.), by writing about our hungers, what satisfies them, and how food relates to the larger human experience. More than a dozen books showcased her gifts as a master storyteller, from Serve It Forth (1937), which the Chicago Daily Tribune hailed as “a delicate emulsion” of culinary history and personal anecdotes, to her magnum opus, The Art of Eating, a collection “on the verge of being a novel,” in the opinion of critic Alan Brien. But Fisher’s life was marked by more upheaval than her public persona suggested, and she tended to embellish her past. (The writer enjoyed it, claims daughter Kennedy, when “people thought of her as someone she wasn’t.”) As a teenager in California, she subbed for vacationing reporters at her dad’s newspaper and viewed cooking as a way to get attention from her otherwise self-absorbed family members. (“It made me feel creative and powerful.”) Her first marriage to a Presbyterian minister’s son fell apart, despite her claims to the contrary, thanks to her romance with next-door neighbor Dillwyn Parrish. After Parrish developed Buerger’s disease, lost a leg, and shot himself to death, Fisher embarked on a series of affairs, culminating in the birth of daughter Anna and marriage to New York City socialite Donald Friede, which also ended in divorce. Her chilly relations with her children and subsequent personal problems—she was by turns isolated, needy, and cruel—contrasted with her growing status as an American culinary icon on par with her close friends Julia Child and James Beard. Reardon’s account of Fisher’s life makes for a rewarding but dense read: casual foodies, especially those more interested in her writing accomplishments than her family life, may not find the 544-page slog worth the trouble.
Satisfying, but for dedicated Fisherphiles only.