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9780385536264_custom-73901c13db735c970d62fabb4f420e451894eda5-s6-c30Reviewed by Jax Kepple

Lush, sensual descriptions of food are only part of this hypnotizing, intense memoir by Kate Christensen.

Christensen has lived all across the United States and Europe, seemingly falling effortlessly into jobs and opportunities that took her far away from wherever her fickle, passionate, haphazard, somewhat selfish mother was living. You can tell that her early childhood memories of a horrifically abusive father have severely impacted her and her family’s ability to cope. Her one seemingly free-spirited sister goes off to join a cult while the other starts the grueling training to be a ballerina. For everything her mother put the family through, from abruptly moving away to a weird, remote town during Christensen’s freshman year of high school (she had flourished and felt very safe in their previous neighborhood and school), to quickly marrying an unemployed alcoholic, to trying to find geographic solutions to her emotional problems, Christensen holds her mother in high esteem but the reader can see the toll it takes. Especially ironic is that her mother, who later after her third divorce falls into a sort of adolescence and is too needy and reliant upon Christensen, was a psychiatrist.

Throughout everything, food binds Christensen’s life together. Everywhere she lived is described based on what she ate there and how the food customs related to her experiences there. At the end of each part of Blue Plate Special (each part corresponds to a place that she lived), Christensen includes mouthwatering recipes from that period in in her life. They are written casually and colloquially, and though I didn’t try any of them, they were very easy to follow. She is an expert at describing food in a way that makes it jump off the page onto a fork in front of you, ready to take a bite.

The New York part was especially heartbreaking because it was obvious that she’d rather have lived in the woods somewhere (she frequently describes a “renovated, rambling Victorian” house) but is pressured into not having kids and staying in Brooklyn by her husband, whom she later divorces. I found it interesting that she only describes life in New York (the last 20 years or so) very briefly compared to her first 25 years. Half the book is her childhood so you can see how emotionally stunted she was as she was passively living with her husband, peppered by depression, alcoholism and panic attacks. It seemed like the best parts of their relationship were about food, which is obviously not sustainable.

I loved the mixture of food and her very interesting life and Christensen expertly juggles the pain with the meals to accomplish this excellent book.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Doubleday. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.