~by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship, written by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel, is the debut publication of the newly established Polhemus Press. It was offered to me for review and I gladly accepted. I'm a big fan of food and tend to enjoy its incorporation into what I read. I was also interested in The Recipe Club because the story is primarily told through e-mails and letters, and I haven't read very many epistolary novels. I also happened to love that egg on the cover. Turns out, it was an exceptionally appropriate choice for the book.
When Valarie Rudman's mother dies, she reaches out to her onetime best friend Lilly Stone. After a devastating falling-out, the two women haven't been in contact for more than two decades. Even so, they are delighted to discover that they have both kept the letters and recipes that they had sent to one another as part of their private, two person recipe club as they grew from young girls to young women. However, in trying to revive their friendship, they soon come to the realization that what drove them part before still continues to drive them apart. Looking through their old correspondence reveals two young women from less than ideal family circumstances sharing their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their struggles. Though they both would like to be able to do that again, it seems that what has been broken can never be fixed. But when a family secret is revealed, both of their lives will be changed.
The first thing I noticed about The Recipe Club is that it is physically a beautifully designed book. From the cover art selection to the interior sketches and full colored backgrounds, it is simply a pleasure to behold. In fact, the overall design played a huge part in my enjoyment of the book. Polhemus Press believes that "compelling content should always be married to singular, expressive design," and they have most definitely succeeded in that with The Recipe Club.
The inclusion of recipes in the book, while nice, never really felt integral to the story--except for maybe one or two instances. I did enjoy the cute titles, often the only real direct link to the story, but most of the time it seemed like the recipes were being tacked on simply because they were supposed to be there rather than really needing to be there. Most of the letters work quite well on their own, so I found that forcing a recipe to fit the story often detracted from the overall impact. I will admit however that some of the recipes look damn tasty, none of them are terribly difficult, and I wouldn't mind giving some of them a try.
The Recipe Club contains over eighty recipes, so fortunately an index is also included. The story itself is told through a mixture of e-mails, letters, memorabilia, news articles, and third-person narrative. Quite a bit of the action understandably takes place offstage, between the various letters (some of which are missing)--phone calls, visits, and conversations are referred to but are not necessarily given in their entirety. Though short, the brief narrative section was probably my least favorite part of the book. Not that it was bad by any means, I just particularly enjoyed Val and Lilly's correspondence. The two women have very distinct personalities that come across clearly in their letters to each other. I liked and was frustrated by the both of them. Their relationship felt very real to me, and that means that it wasn't always an easy one--they both certainly make their own mistakes. I wasn't blown away by The Recipe Club but I did enjoy it and it made me smile. I will say that even though I had guessed the big secret early on, it was handled pretty well by the authors. The Recipe Club makes for a nice, quick read and I think overall the book bodes well for Polhemus Press.