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Cookbook Reviews

Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher

by Joan Reardon

North Point Press, 528 pp., $27.50

The title of this comprehensive and clear-eyed biography comes from John Updike's description of M.F.K. Fisher. Prose poet of food and other appetites she was, indeed. To many, Fisher's work has long represented the ultimate in good food writing. As perhaps no one else ever quite managed, Fisher used words to evoke the primal essences of food itself, as well as very personal experiences of anticipating, cooking, tasting, smelling, savoring, sharing, and thinking about food: what it is, what it represents, and the emotional role it plays in our lives. Reardon compellingly relates this life: Fisher's upbringing in a California newspaper family; her three marriages; her complicated relationships with friends, lovers, husbands, and daughters; her life as a writer in Europe and California; her evolution from a self-taught, unconventional gastronome into the pre-eminent food voice of the 20th century. In addition to the facts of Fisher's rich life, however, the greatest revelation is learning that Fisher's amazingly evocative stories were pretty much just that – stories. Despite their unmistakable ring of veracity and self-revelation, it seems that telling the truth was not nearly as important as telling a good tale. "Mary Frances gradually realized that writing, like cooking, was not so much about the facts as it was about creating a certain kind of control over reality and power over the one who consumed." As another writer I know says, sometimes you have to lie to tell the truth. Reading this fascinating life certainly makes you want to savor Fisher's own work, but assuredly, you won't view her stellar prose in the quite the same way again.

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