This book confused me. Not too many pages in, and I didn’t know what to do. Turn on the light as evening fell, skip dinner and keep on reading? Go to the kitchen, roll up my sleeves, pull out the pans and start cooking (oh! that garlic sauce on page 126)? Or head for the computer to order Mastering the Art of French Cooking, maybe with overnight delivery?
But the next day, I cooked and ordered. Glad I am that I did all three.
On first glance the book seems like a simple enough approach—a compilation of letters between two friends as their individual and interesting lives unfold an ocean apart. But, the two friends are Julia Child and Avis Devoto, both gifted writers. The letters alone zing off the page as they offer not only reports of their personal lives, but a study of a growing, rich and deep friendship, commentaries on the confusing world of the 1950s, the even more confusing world of book publishing, and, naturally, cooking, eating, parties, planning, more cooking, cooking , cooking. I ate it all up.
In 1951, a young American living in
read Bernard DeVoto’s column in Harper’s. He lamented being unable to find a kitchen knife that an American housewife “can cut something with.” The American, Julia Child, knew about knives and where to get exactly what he sought. Off she went, bought a knife, put it in the mail. Paris
DeVoto, a busy man and popular author didn’t respond. His equally busy and talented wife Avis did with a more-or-less routine thank you note. Julia answered Avis. Avis wrote back to Julia. Years of writing and friendship began.
Here’s an aside concerning the DeVoto family. It’s a familiar name to me. My dad about whom I’m blogging (http://toucthepast.blogspot.com/ more about that another time—another time soon) was a journalist-historian of
and the Southwest. He greatly admired Bernard DeVoto and owned many of his books. I grew up with The Year of Decision, 1846 and Across the Wide Missouri. I never, until now knew or even wondered much about the author—just another famous writer. And I never thought to wonder about his wife although I knew my dad would never have enjoyed the career he had as a writer without the support, help (writing and otherwise), hard work of my mom. This was the case in the DeVoto household. Avis was a writer/reviewer in her own right; plus, she acted as the business manager, the personal secretary, the proof-reader, and, I suspect, sometimes co-author. I have a new heroine. Texas
More than a half-century after they wrote the letters I’m grateful that both women were not only fine writers and dependable correspondents, but that they both kept things. I recently came into possession of box full of my father’s letters to my mom. She kept things. Apparently he didn’t. Now I ache for her letters to him. Three cheers for Avis and Julia.
As their friendship grew, so did the range of the letters. Of course, there was lots of cooking, and entertaining. Together they wrestled around with a perennial hostess problem—how to throw an elegant dinner party without help and without the hostess being held hostage in the kitchen by the demands of a “serve immediately” menu. They’ve got some dandy solution—some show up in Mastering the Art. Politics took up lots of space coming to a peak during the outrageous and outraging McCarthy hearings. And, naturally, they spend lots of time discussing the perennial “what happens next in my life?” The friends are candid and engaging. Avis knew the ins and outs, the snarls and the pitfalls of publishing. She gave Julia more than just advice on writing and managing unruly co-authors, she shepherded Master the Art of French Cooking across the decade, yes, I said the decade, until its triumphant publication in 1962.
The friendship was not always in letters. Exchanging over 100 letters, the nw fast and best friends met. The friendship deepened and became not only between the women, but between the families. It continued as long as both lived.
|Lamb with garlic sauce. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!|
A great story, a great friendship, a great book, two great lives, and lots and lots of good times and food. My two word review: Read it.