More memoirs from Gourmet editor Reichl (Tender at the Bone, 1998, etc.), highly focused (on the food world of Berkeley, New York, and Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s) and grindingly self-absorbed.
In the late 1970s, Reichl was married to a winsome environmental artist named Doug, living in Berkeley, and reviewing restaurants for New West magazine. She embarked on a torrid affair with another food writer, Colman Andrews, and we are treated to detailed account of this liaison, in which she comes across as both dishonest and irresponsible (while the hapless Andrews appears merely as a pompous gasbag). They fell in love, they went to Paris. He dumped her. She traveled to China. There, thankfully, the foreignness of the land washed over her, and the wonder of it all informed her narrative. Reichl can turn a lovely phrase (“I followed her through the dark living room and into the kitchen, thinking how very blue the flower tasted”), and she can also swap hackneyed comparisons with the best of them (truffles, for example, “tasted the way a forest smells in autumn”). There is a terrific interlude when she visits M.F.K. Fisher and learns of her teaching at Piney Woods in 1964, but by then way too much time is spent detailing a disastrous visit by her mother to her next lover’s pad. Another travel episode, to Thailand, is a winner, but her coverage of Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois opening and her courtship by the Los Angeles Times will have readers suffocating in all things Ruth. Just when you've had enough comes a disarming chapter on her tragic adoption of a baby girl (who was subsequently returned to the birth mother against the author's wishes).
Reichl (who “raced through electric streets” in Thailand) likes it in the fast track—but she has a tendency to hog the lane to herself.