Thursday, April 25, 2013

From the Kitchen of Half Truth by Maria Goodin — 352 pgs

Meg May is a woman of facts. As a scientist, she finds the real and resolute comforting and orderly. Meg’s behavior as an adult has been a way of coping with her mother’s tendency for outlandish storytelling. Meg has grown up hearing stories about how she was so sweet that neighbors borrowed her to dip her toes in their tea, and how, as a small baby, she would not grow and had to be put into a warm oven after ingesting a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. These stories, while charming, are not the answers that Meg wants when she questions her mother about her childhood, and her mother refuses to be forthcoming. But the time is growing late for all the stories Meg so desperately needs to feel whole, for Meg’s mother is dying. Arriving at her cottage for what will be her last summer, Meg tries wholeheartedly to get her mother to finally reveal the secrets of her birth and childhood, all to no avail. Meg’s handsome boyfriend insists that Meg’s mother is trying to pull a fast one on her, leaving her confused and out of the loop. But as Meg discovers clue after clue about her mother’s life before and immediately after her birth, she discovers that the painful truth isn’t half as beautiful or digestible as the stories that her mother concots. For Meg’s mother, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it has consequences so far reaching and tenuous that Meg may wish that she never started investigating at all.

I fell into this book with ease and rapidity, for along with the fable-like stories that Meg’s mother, Val, told her, there were vast sections that were devoted to food and gardening. It was a bit like Sarah Addison Allen’s books in that there was magic on the pages but the book never veered into magical realism. Val’s stories of Meg’s life were vastly entertaining and fun, and I found myself wishing that I had had that kind of childhood, where fact blended with fantasy to form the perfect melange of unique flavor and sparkling moments.

There was also romance, but of a rather different nature than most books. Meg is happy with her boyfriend, Mark, who is an outstanding scientist and who loves the facts and truth much more than any character that I have ever seen. But I found Mark to be a blowhard, and it was increasingly difficult to like the man who insisted that Val was purposely deceiving Meg to keep the truth from her. As difficult as it was for Meg to watch her mother die, it was even more difficult to have Mark at her side, viciously smearing the memories of her mother into an ugly paste of lies and deceit.

It seemed that Val’s only friend, aside from Meg, was the gardiner, Ewan. Ewan was a kind of nutty character, but he was a great nut and a lot of fun on the page. He talked to the apple trees to make them grow. He kindly told the slugs not to eat the lettuce, and he doted on Meg’s mother, who filled his belly with lovely treacle tarts and sticky homemade buns. I liked that he was practical yet still whimsical, and when Meg needed someone to talk to about Val, he was all ears. He was a great character and I had a lot of respect for him. Ewan and Meg had a difficult relationship, full of stormy battles, but he was a man that could and did deserve her trust.

This was a tale about identity and the lack of it that some people always feel. It was a novel where secrets were imbued with magic to take their sting and potency away, and where the unbelievable is scattered with truth to form the essence of what it was like for a young mother to raise a daughter alone and still have her come out to be whole, successful, and loving. It was a beautiful book that I would love to read again, and for those readers who are looking for some “comfort food” reading, this would be perfect. An outstanding read, highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

14 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I definitely could use plants that would respond to my commands to grow!

Ti said...

I am laughing at Jill's comment above. True, true.

You've made this one sound very charming.

bermudaonion said...

Having a mother who tells stories like drive me insane. This book sounds terrific!

Suko said...

This sounds riveting! Wonderfully written review!

Brooke said...

Everyone needs a great comfort read now and again. Sounds like a cozy read - great review, Heather!

Literary Feline said...

This book does sound good! Thank you for your great review, Heather.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

One I meant to read, but haven't yet. I do like the sound of it. Thanks for sharing once again.

Athira said...

This one sounds wonderful! I had seen this around once and was curious about it. Looks like it is worthwhile read.

Lisa said...

I'd say the fact that you'd read this one again is the highest praise. I'm not a fan of magical realism which has been my only quibble with Sarah Addison Allen's writing. A book that is written that well without the magic definitely appeals.

Charlie (The Worm Hole) said...

You know, as much as Mark sounds irritating and perhaps irrational, I like how it sounds he's been included. There's just something very real about it. Other than that I like the sound of the book overall.

Buried In Print said...

I want treacle tarts. And homemade buns. You've made this one sound irresistible, even though I'm not sure I'd have given it a second glance if I hadn't come upon here (it's not a cover image that I find immediately inviting)!

jennysbooks said...

I like the sound of this book! It's interesting in stories when someone has an unreliable narrator in their life and is really buckling down and trying to figure out what the truth is.

Catherine Coffman said...

Happy Read-A-Thon from your friendly neighborhood Team Lion cheerleader! Hope you're having a great day!

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

I hate to admit my ignorance, but what the heck is a treacle tart?

This one sounds so delightful ~ almost reminiscent of Susan Gregg Gilmore novel. Must get this one!

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