You eat what you read

Rebecca Tucker in National Post:

Fictitious_dishes_thebelljarWhen I think of Sylvia Plath, I think of crabmeat.

I think of tragedy too, and of the deceptively straightforward prose that characterized Plath’s short career as a novelist. But for one reason or another, the passage in The Bell Jar that has the most staying power is the one in which Plath details a ladies’ luncheon that gave everyone food poisoning: “When I finished the first plate of cold chicken and caviar, I laid out another,” Plath’s protagonist, Esther, recalls. “Then I tackled the avocado and crabmeat salad.” Food is a powerful narrative device, even (or, sometimes, especially) when it’s not being used to directly propel a story forward. The literary use of a meal, a snack, or a table setting can serve to provide, with great depth, the most context: in The Bell Jar, for instance, Plath could’ve described a poet Esther once met as deliberate, pretentious or effete; instead, she merely observed that he ate salad with his hands, making it seem like “the only natural and sensible thing to do.”

Cara Nicoletti’s new book, Voracious, is both a collection of such literary references to food and a psuedo-memoir, where recipes are used as a compelling narrative backbone. Nicoletti places memorable passages about food and eating within the context of her own life: Voracious is split into three sections — childhood, adolescence and college years, and adulthood — within which Nicoletti has catalogued a series of short essays about the importance of certain books, followed by a recipe she’s written based on a reference to food from each one. Her reflection on The Silence of the Lambs, for instance, has a recipe for crostini with fava beans and chicken liver mousse; a passage on Charlotte’s Web is accompanied, somewhat morbidly, by one for pea and bacon soup. Nicoletti’s recipe for The Bell Jar’s Crab-Stuffed Avocado appears mid-adolescence.

More here.