The Cookbook Collector

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Cookbook Collector
by Allegra Goodman

Sisters Emily and Jess lost their mother when at a young age. Now as adults they’ve chosen completely different life styles. Emily is the co-founder of a successful dotcom business. Jess is an eternal student, working in a bookstore and campaigning for eco rights in Berkley.

The characters and premise are interesting, but the problem is Goodman can’t decide whose story she wants to tell. She starts with the two sisters, but she quickly gets side tracked by their friends, family, lovers, co-workers at the dotcom company and bookstore, etc. Soon she’s juggling so many story lines that it’s hard to care about any of them. Just as you would get interested in one plot, the story would abruptly switch over to a completely unrelated group of people.

We kept leaving the sisters’ stories and going into everyone else’s lives. First it was Emily’s boyfriend Jonathan and his dotcom company with his friend Orion. Then it was Orion’s crush on a co-worker, then Jess’ new boss George, then a rabbi that Jess meets; you see how things could get a bit muddled.

I also was not a fan of the title. One of the many subplots follows a woman who is selling her deceased uncles’ rare collection of cookbooks, but that wasn’t even one of the main story lines. It made me think the book was about a homemaker and her love for baking or something and I don’t think it fit the book at all.

Frankly I think I would have enjoyed the entire book a lot more if the software companies’ plots had been completely axed. The most interesting story lay with Jess (not her tree hugging tendencies) and her relationship with her sister, the bookstore where she worked and George. Unfortunately there were too many distracting subplots. I think it would have made a better short story collection. There were some wonderful characters, they just needed their own space to shine.

BOTTOM LINE: It was off to a good start, but the novel loses itself when it tries to tell too many stories at once. I would be willing to try something else by the author in the hopes that her future work is a bit more focused.


Brooke said...

Sounds like this book would make my head hurt!

Ana S. said...

It's easy for a book to become a meandering mess when it tried to do too much :\ Unless it's a huge chunkster, but even then the subplots need careful handling.

Anne said...

I do not like a lot of side stories going on in a book either, it gets way too confusing trying to keep everything straight. I was going to read this one, thanks for the review- I think I am going to pass on it now.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This is all good information, because I get excited about cooking things. I'd be pretty annoyed if the cookbooks were just a side paragraph! In some books, it works well when we skip from person to person, and delve into their lives. Goon Squad is a great example. But not all books are Goon Squads.

Nikki Steele said...

Too bad -- I'm a sucker when it comes to cooking plots and so I would be even more disappointed to find out that this one had little to do with it.

Seems like the author has 4-5 books up her sleeve that got pushed together into one.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ana - I think structure and editing are probably two of the most difficult jobs and author has, but when it's done wrong it can hurt even a great plot.

Anne - I wish I'd passed on it as well.

Sandy - You said it Sandy. I wish more books were like Goon Squad. Funny, I have a post scheduled for tomorrow and I list that as one of my Top Ten books I've read since starting this blog.

Nikki Steele - There was so little cooking! I love your thought about 4 or 5 books. Sometimes I wonder if that the case, the author had a bunch of ideas for books and then smashed them into one.

Jenny Girl said...

Way too much going on in this book. Kudos for sticking with it because I so would have dropped it like a bad habit.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenny Girl - I have such a hard time giving up on books. I keep thinking it will get better the second I put it down.

Heather said...

I completely agree. I read it back when it first came out and it was just so dang BUSY. Way too much going on. Two, maybe three, books would have been much better.