From the great 20th-century food and travel writer, a lyrical roman à clef set among Americans in 1930s Switzerland.
In 1938, Fisher was living with her soon-to-be second husband, Dillwyn “Tim” Parrish, in a farmhouse outside a Swiss village. Soon after this autobiographical story is set, Parrish developed a circulatory disease and had to have his leg amputated. The agony of his phantom limb—the “theoretical foot” of the title—eventually drove him to suicide, and Fisher’s novel lay unpublished in her agent’s files for decades. In it, the Fisher character, Sara Porter, is living out of wedlock with the Parrish-like Tim Garton on an estate overlooking a Swiss lake. Late in the summer, Tim’s and Sara’s siblings and several friends descend on the couple for a house party. Brief italicized passages from Tim’s point of view after he loses his leg contrast darkly with the sensuous and mostly plotless idyll. The book’s key note is impossible love: siblings longing for siblings with almost incestuous intensity, a young man infatuated with an older woman, a widow in love with her female best friend, couples scandalously unmarried or married to other people. All this longing infuses the action—or rather, inaction—with a poignancy familiar to readers of Fisher’s travel and food writing. The characters pick flowers, arrange them, nap, dress, watch each other in mirrors, and, of course, eat and drink: “They ate little roasted cold pigeons and dug into a magnificent aspic all atremble with carrots and radishes and slices of cucumbers cut like stars and moons….The wine was rich and ripe and slid warmly down their various throats in different ways.”
A period piece and an interesting novelty, Fisher’s novel has exquisite moments, but it’s easy to see why she didn’t consider herself a novelist.