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The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Pub Date:

The Cookbook Collector
Allegra Goodman

Dial Press
7-12-11
Trade Paperback/432 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-34086-1
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". . . extremely talented with an intelligent voice . . ."

Allegra Goodman’s extensive writing about modern technology overshadows the intriguing plot in “The Cookbook Collector,” in which an autodidact purchases a rare collection of cookbooks with secret notes, drawings and poetry tucked between the pages.

This novel evolves around two sisters, Edith, a self-made millionaire in the computer programming industry, and philosophy student Jessamine, the family disappointment who is involved with “Save the Redwoods” and works part-time for Microsoft millionaire retiree George, owner of “Yorick’s Used and Rare Books.”

Jessamine and George discover among the recipes a contagious sensuality as they huddle together luxuriating in the exquisite find, losing themselves in romantic mystery. It was obvious the collector never cooked; instead, the recipes sparked thoughts of a love he couldn’t have. Sketches of a woman’s torso “fluttered” out of the pages, and in one recipe for marzipan calling for berries in season, his note read: “Take your Angelica when young and tender, which will be about the beginning of May….”

In a juxtaposition, Edith, a corporate CEO, is in love with Jonathan, her business competitor, who heads his own web-based data-storage company. The multitude of employees and friends introduced in this section are not fully developed and there is nothing new or exciting in revisiting the well-documented dot-com rise and fall. Further disappointing, Goodman doesn’t trust her own creative imagination and instead fell back into linking Edith’s conflict to “911”, already over-exploited in novels and movies.

If Goodman would have lingered in the cookbook collection, with its scrumptious recipes and historical implications, and the sisters’ supportive relationship after their mother’s premature death, this would have been a page-turner. Still Goodman is extremely talented with an intelligent voice whom we hope we will read more of in the future.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla