Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman

I love to read young, Jewish authors, and Goodman's previous novel, "Intuition," a story about institutional dysfunction at a research lab felt spot-on, so I was psyched to begin "The Cookbook Collector."

Because I had such high hopes for Goodman's book, I went against my usual practice of bailing out on books that don't work for me and stuck with it until the end, but unfortunately, by the time I reached the end the novel had become a painfully boring, hum-drum read. In "The Cookbook Collector" Goodman portrays the lives of two sisters whose personalities and lives an diverge dramatically. Sympathetic characters -- no, make that relatable characters -- can allow an author to get away with a multitude of sins, but I never related to or felt invested in either of the two main characters' lives. This is a novel heavy on dialogue, in which the characters chat endlessly about their feelings and motivations. It could be argued that, in this case, the dialogue almost serves as exposition. The end result is that all that explaining slowed down the pace, and there was not a lot of forward momentum to the plot.

Also, as a side point, although not an insignificant one, although I love that Goodman includes a thread about a sect of Hasidim, (the Bialystockers, a thinly veiled riff on the Lubavitchers and the Chabad movement), I thought her treatment of this group was heavy handed and pandered to Hasidic stereotypes in such a way as to almost render those characters caricatures. Goodman concludes "The Cookbook Collector" by delving into the issues of family lineage and Jewish continuity, issues of great interest to me, but even so, in my eyes, "The Cookbook Collector" didn't quite capture the right recipe.

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