This book was on sale recently, so I picked it up and decided to use it as a sort of twist on a category for my reading challenge for 2016. The challenge category was "a book with a protagonist who has your occupation," but, as a mid-level university bureaucrat (essentially) main characters with my occupation aren't exactly easy to come by. So I decided to read a book with a protagonist (in this case, the author, as this is a memoir) who has an occupation I would like to have. Gabrielle Hamilton is a chef and the owner of the restaurant Prune in New York City. She is also, as I established from reading this memoir, a very confusing and not very nice person. Well, at least as she portrays herself here. But then that's the risk of putting out the story of your life for anyone to pick up, isn't it? Total randos like me, who've never met you, can totally judge you. And judge I did.
This book is divided into three different parts, following the title: Blood, Bones, and Butter. Blood follows Hamilton's childhood, the first chapter of which seems to be happy, and the rest of which is about her rather misspent use doing drugs and wandering Europe. Are there wonderful, heartwarming moments scattered throughout? Yes, there are. Her time spent in France sounds lovely, as does her time in Greece. But then you balance that about the coke-snorting waitress who maintains she earned $90,000 in a year and spent it all on drugs, and you have to wonder a little bit, now don't you? But still. She was young. Life moves on. She apparently got over her drug problems, decided to further her education in a more traditional sense. We move on to Bones.
Bones follows her as she goes to Michigan to get her master's degree and also through several different stages of her professional career, from working as the cook at a summer camp to being a high-energy catering champ to opening and running Prune. This is probably the most diverse portion of the book, and it's also where I started really raising my eyebrows. The affair, with a man who she apparently finds relatively attractive given that she references making out with him, having sex with him one every available surface, etc. despite her professions that she's a lesbian. The fact that she married a man, and stayed married to him for ten years (they are now divorced, FYI; thank you, Wikipedia) looking for a deep and meaningful relationship when she apparently knew from the beginning it wouldn't be that way and that the marriage was really for a green card; the way that she portrayed her mother so flatteringly and then as such a raving bitch and then as a wonderful person once again; the way that she acts so superior to everyone else, says that she got over that, and then continues on with it... All of this made me not like Hamilton very much at all. Here's the thing: I felt like I couldn't trust her.
I know, I know. People are complicated creatures. We have many facets. This also applies to both Hamilton and all of the people she portrays. But at the same time, when you write a memoir, you're really going through a reflection process and, one would think, clarifying some things not only for yourself but for others. The things that come out in memoirs tend to be a bit more focused than thoughts running around our heads every day of our lives because of the time and process of writing and focusing them. That doesn't seem to have been the case here, and also makes me side-eye the memoir as a whole.
Then there's the third part, Butter, which deals mostly with her in-laws and children and the time that she spent with them (and her husband) in Italy, where her husband is from. This was a lovely part, overall, other than the continuing issues Hamilton as a person that I just couldn't bring myself to get over. She has a terrible relationship with her husband, and go figure; they live apart, they don't communicate, and yet she seems completely baffled that this marriage, which was formulated on very flimsy pretexts to begin with, isn't a fairy tale. And she seems to think that all of this is her husband's fault. I can't even go into this any further, because the amount of justifications that she offers for as to why none of her terrible relationships are her fault, but rather entirely due to other people, are just so mind-boggling that I really can't even.
This is a wonderfully written book--Hamilton has a way of describing food, and places, and even people in a way that makes them seem to live and breathe. Her way of writing food is mouth-watering and made me crave foods that I have, actually, tried, and didn't like, which is a real talent. And I could practically see the places she went and the things she did. The writing at various places is absolutely beautiful. But there's also the part where this book is apparently about "The inadvertent education of a reluctant chef," and it's debatable whether that's really the case. There are episodes that contribute to this, of course. Her time working in Michigan definitely falls into this category, as do her travels. I think this all really comes out when she's looking at opening Prune. But beyond that, this seems like an angry dump about, again, all of those terrible relationships that aren't even a little bit due to her participation in them.
This was such a mixed bag of a book for me. The parts about food and growing professionally were wonderful. The few parts where she seemed to look honestly at her relationships were good. But then she would backtrack and start angrily building up a case for why all of her relationships are all crap and it's not her fault that they are, because everyone else is terrible and she's not. I just don't buy it, and it really tarnished the book as a whole for me, because these parts took up so much room that I think could have been put to better purpose. Overall, as far as memoirs, and particularly "food" marketed memoirs, go, I think that there are better ones than this.
2 stars out of 5.