Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Provence 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr (2013)

This artfully and exquisitely written; you can practically taste and smell every meal in the book, hear the wine bottles popping open and the wine glasses clinking, and, party laughter and conversation, and the teeth grinding and heavy sighing as these friends and frenemies wine and dine each other in Provence in December 1970.  If it wasn't for the attention to detail and the sumptuous prose, I probably would have put the book down.  Underneath the lavish descriptions of food and people, there really isn't much here.  I think (and lately many books I've read have suffered from this) the book was laden with a heavy subtitle that the book itself couldn't live up to.  The name dropping in the title was bad enough (if probably necessary) but then to add the theses worthy "reinvention of American taste" to the subtitle leaves the book with quite a climb up; I'm not really sure it ever reached those heights.  Read this for the food and friends; the Childs always make good books (and movies); MFK Fisher and James Beard are fascinating; I wanted to know more about the lesbian couple (although this isn't really their book).  Richard Olney is insufferable and ugly (is there anything worse than an artist who knows he is an artist?).  An enjoyable read, if a bit circular (stories kept repeating themselves, as if this were serialized in a magazine, as if to remind us what was written last week or month).

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American TasteProvence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A heavy handed, long subtitle gives this book the task of climbing a thesis worthy peak ("the reinvention of American taste", wow) which it never quite makes (this seems to be problematic lately, as if pop nonfiction has something to prove). I probably would have put this book aside at some point quite frankly except the writing is exquisite and sumptuous.  Barr can certainly write food, but he also brought this long ago month of December 1970 and these famous people to life.  You can smell the food they are cooking, you are sitting in the kitchen watching them cook, hearing the wine bottle pop open, the clink of glasses, laughter, the smell of cigarette smoke.  The clenching of teeth and heavy sighs as some of the frenemies are forced to deal with each other in the most genteel dinner party of ways.  The Childs area always a great study (in nonfiction and film), but Barr makes sure the other characters are equally interesting and well drawn.  I'd recommend this on those merits, but don't expect a Eureka moment regarding the subtitle.


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