Friday, August 13, 2010
Book Review: Simply from Scratch
When I first heard about the premise of "Simply from Scratch," I thought it was going to be another "Good Grief" (by Lolly Winston). It focuses on a young widow who befriends a young girl and they bake together. "Good Grief" is also about a young widow who bakes a lot and befriends a young girl. However, that's where the similarities end. For starters, Sophie (the widow from "Good Grief") is skilled at baking and decides to open a bakery. Zell (the widow from "Simply from Scratch"), on the other hand, has never used her oven, as her husband was the cook. Also, the young girl in "Good Grief" had a crazy and inattentive mother. The young girl in "Simply..." has a loving, single father who worries he's not doing a good enough job.
Alicia Bessette weaves an intricate web of interesting characters and story lines in her debut novel. She handles grief in such a touching and honest way that the reader is able to easily sympathize with Zell. There are so many things I love about this story. First is the small town of Wippamunk, MA, where this takes place. She paints such a descriptive picture that I felt like I actually went there for a visit instead of just reading about it. Think Punxsutawney, PA, like in "Groundhog Day" and you'll get the feel of Wippamunk too. Then there is the way she changes the focus from Zell to EJ (the last guy to see her husband alive) and then to past e-mails from Nick (her husband). There's also the way she twists in a real event that only happened a few years ago and allows the reader to see what effects the devastation of the event had on ordinary people. Finally, there are the baking experiments that just leave me laughing and mortified for Zell at the same time.
The character of Zell has so many interesting layers. I found out new things about her at every turn of the page. She has an interesting job as a medical illustrator and talks to her dog in "pirate-speak." She also wears her husband's apron all the time and plays "Gladys Knight and the Pips" albums throughout the novel. Aside from Zell, there is so much depth to each character in the story and it is interesting to see her interact with them.
The two things that could have been different are that some story lines felt open-ended and it got a bit sappy at times. (I almost expected to hear the music that plays at the end of "Full House" during the sappy moments.) The former could have been due to the fact that the story was about getting closure on her husband's death and nothing else really mattered as long as that was accomplished. However, I would have liked some answers that I didn't really receive. As for the sappiness, it's hard not to get sappy when it comes to a serious subject, especially if it involves death of a loved one.
Overall, Ms. Bessette did an amazing job with a topic that some people (including myself) are afraid to approach or fathom. She kept the story interesting from beginning to end, especially after drawing me in right away. I highly recommend this novel and I look forward to reading whatever she comes out with in the future.