Sunday, October 27, 2013

REVIEW: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Relish is a food-themed memoir that reveals a young woman's love of good food through fond memories. Lucy Knisley grew up in both New York City and rural Hudson Valley, New York with a chef mother and gourmet-loving father who both exposed her to a wide variety of luxurious foods from babyhood through young adulthood. In this graphic novel, Lucy explores her relationship with and love of food through a series of vignettes and anecdotes from various stages of her life and several international trips as well, all of which instilled in her strong connections between food, places, and people. Her stories are honest and open, often laced with humor and sentimentality to which readers can relate well such as a grandmother's famous pickle and a mother's perfect chocolate chip cookie. Although Lucy clearly developed a gourmet palate like that of her parents, she still has a fondness for processed junk food every now and then, something that I think helps dilute the level of privilege that runs through this novel.

A few months ago I read Knisley's earlier work, French Milk, another food-themed graphic memoir that chronicled the author's month long visit to Paris with her mother, which I found to be a boring and pretentious recount of what should have been a trip of a lifetime for a college-aged girl yet instead was a whiny recollection of a trip of complaining and examples of how to be an ungrateful brat and treat your mother poorly. Anyway, I'm pleased to report that Lucy has matured a bit since she wrote French Milk and it shows in Relish. Each chapter of Relish visits a different place, phase and food experience of Lucy's life and each ends with a delightfully illustrated recipe (probably my favorite part of the book). As Knisley reflects on some striking food memories, she shares them with a fond affection for her family and friends connected to those experiences. I would have liked to see Knisley share more about other people's connections to foods, especially relating to her international travels. I was disappointed that Knisley never attempted to learn about or connect with any local people and their culture during her trips. Or if she did do those things on her travels, she doesn't share them in her book, which is a shame because I think those experiences would be a huge asset to her books.

In the future, I'd like to see Knisley develop a more heightened awareness of the world around her and write with a little less self absorption. I realize Relish is a memoir and therefore focused on the individual, but I still think a well written memoir includes some attention to the rest of the world and Kinsley's writing could be stellar if she wrote with a bit more substance and depth overall.

In the meantime, Relish is a quick, fun graphic memoir to read. The drawings are well done and I found the human expressions are accurately expressed as well as charming. Again, the recipes at the end of each chapter are great and a special touch to this food-based book. I also have to admit I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters in which Lucy was living in the Hudson Valley since I'm familiar with that area and have visited it regularly over the years.. both downtown Rhinebeck and Grieg Farm as a very close friend of mine lives in that same area.

GRADE: 3.5+ out of 5 stars. Maybe 4 stars. I really did enjoy it. :)

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  1. I liked this more than than you did -- but I think you bring up some good points about a wider perspective. On the other hand, she had a pretty great foodie upbringing. :)

  2. I've read a couple of other reviews of this, and have been intrigued. It's got to be especially hard to write an un-self-centered memoir at a young age! It seems as though your likes outweighed your dislikes in the end...

  3. You have been enjoying graphic novels, haven't you! I should try one (maybe I could get through some classics). HA

  4. I love that this is done in a graphic novel format. I will put this one my list and look for it at the library.

  5. Beth F I did really enjoy the book immensely. I think I went into Relish already such a harsh critic because I disliked French Milk so much. I've been thinking about my review of Relish over the last couple of days and I've decided that if I had read it without having previously read French Milk I probably would have raved about it. It really is a great little food memoir.

    Laurie C You are so right!!! I think it's very natural for most people Knisley's age to be a bit self-centered. I likely was at that age myself! I do think she has the potential to improve in her memoir writing skills as she matures and experiences more of the world and truthfully, I do hope she writes another book like this.

    mpartyka I HAVE been reading A LOT of graphic novels this year. So many good ones out there these day that appeal to adults. You might like this one!

    Peaceful Reader Oh I think you'd like Relish!

  6. I remember seeing this one around! I had no idea it was a memoir- though I knew it was a graphic novel - I'm sorry it wasn't better but it does sound interesting.


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