In Swanson’s debut novel, food provides more than physical sustenance for an introverted baker.
When readers first meet Anise Kaufmann, squatting in an abandoned restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., with a cat named Mandy, she’s talking to her dead mother, Laura, and preparing a béchamel sauce with items from the neighborhood food bank. As she and Mandy partake of their unlit, gourmet meal, she re-examines her 47 years upon the Earth and how she’s kept her distance from other people—except to serve them delectable goods. Her “childhood light had gone out” after her mother drowned, but Laura’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook eventually changed Anise’s life, awakening her appreciation for food and connecting her to Laura’s spirit. (“She visits me when I cook,” Anise confessed to her best friend in high school.) Anise eventually stumbled upon a stack of love letters among Laura’s things—not written by Anise’s father. Feeling confused and betrayed, she attended a cooking institute, hoping to find her own recipe for happiness; she got a dream job in a New York City bakery, which stole her ideas. One day, she came home to find her apartment in flames. After returning to Buffalo, through the redemption of fresh bread and her mother’s cookbook, she opened a humble, thriving bakery—until the tragic arrival of Pete, an Iraqi War veteran. “Humans act strange if left alone too long,” according to the novel’s omniscient narrator—a binding philosophy for Swanson’s powerful life study, as Anise encounters several odd, lonely characters on her numerous roads to salvation. Throughout the author’s taut, sometimes raw narrative, Anise’s distrust borders on misanthropy and makes her less than sympathetic, but strengthens the author’s message. Cast out into the cold streets, a pleasant surprise awaits Anise—but it may come a little too late to clear the wisps of melancholy that overwhelm Swanson’s tale.
A concise, cautionary tale about a woman exchanging pain for trust.