I loved the opening line of this book: “The christening took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.” Although I didn’t know it at the time, it captures the tone of the story perfectly in its understatement and wry humor. The story is about the blending of two families and the relationships among them as they grow up or old or both. Patchett crafts these individual characters in ways that make them real, prompting me to take sides in my preference for one sibling over another. There are a lot of cultural references in here from the seventies, and having lived them, I enjoyed revisiting songs like George Benson’s “This Masquerade” and Lou Rawls’ “Nobody But Me.” One of the characters is an avid reader, so there are many books mentioned, including one that I’ve added to my To Read list called Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, in translation from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally. Caroline, the icy sister shows her contempt for her reading sister Franny when she comments on all the money Franny is wasting on books. Franny assures her that no money was spent, as her books are all from the library. “Thank god for libraries,” Caroline responds condescendingly. There was another line that I found sad, and off-putting, although, having been used in reference to Albie, it certainly reflects his attitude toward school as a teenager: “The halls were silent and wide without the hordes of furious children and bitter, defeated adults.” I sincerely hope that this view is the exception and not the norm in our high schools today. Finally, as someone who has struggled, given up, struggled some more, and given up, with meditation, I especially enjoyed (Holly’s elderly mother) Teresa’s stream of consciousness narrative on her attempt to achieve one breath that was unburdened by thought when she meditates with the pros at her daughter’s Zen retreat home in Switzerland. It’s not just me. Meditation is hard.
On the drive from the airport in Lucerne to the Zen center where Holly lives, Teresa is overwhelmed by the clarity of the Swiss air and the majestic beauty of the Alps. As she rolls down the window of the Citroen (that she likens to a soup can), “I have to tell you, Holly, I didn’t understand until now. I mean, I’ve been happy for you, but in the back of my mind I was always thinking, “What’s wrong with Torrance?” And this is when they drove past two shaggy mountain goats on the road, no doubt waiting for Heidi and Grandfather to herd them back into the mountains.
As this book was about families, there was a fair amount of food mentioned, but it was pretty basic, like salad, asparagus, baked potato, steak. Toward the end of the book, Beverly has prepared onion dip to satisfy one grandson’s need for salt and caramel cake for the other’s need for sweet when they visit with their parents for the Christmas holidays. Since I am one who craves salt, the recipe choice was a no-brainer.
French Onion Dip
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 yellow onions (peeled, diced)
¼ tsp garlic powder
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
12 oz. plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
8 oz whipped cream cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
To a large saute pan add olive oil and butter and heat over medium heat. Add onions, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes, until onions are golden and caramelized. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large bowl, add the Greek yogurt and cream cheese, and mix to combine. Add the cooled onion mixture and mix to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.