A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes
When I read Christian fiction, I often feel as if writers are trying too hard --- to relay their faith, teach a lesson, show (never tell) an emotion, overblow a plotline, take a literary tack…or maybe it’s that they’re not trying hard enough. So what a pleasant surprise to find this novel that didn’t once make me sigh with irritation.
A TABLE BY THE WINDOW draws out popular themes:
- Intergenerational, even international, family dynamics, including strong interplay between siblings
- Food --- The main character, Juliette, is a Portland, Oregon, food journalist with a culinary education, her brother is a locally acclaimed chef, her parents are purveyors of a popular Italian restaurant, her recently deceased grandmother was the principal of a notable patisserie.
- Mystery --- Who is the young man in a photo Juliette finds hidden, pasted inside the jacket of an old cookbook her grandmother had brought to America from France long before Juliette had been born?
- Then throw in Juliette’s former romance gone bad --- her brother’s best-friend sous-chef --- and a new, tentative but budding long-distance romance (his name is Neil) initiated through an online dating service.
"When I read Christian fiction, I often feel as if writers are trying too hard --- to relay their faith, teach a lesson, show (never tell) an emotion, overblow a plotline, take a literary tack…or maybe it’s that they’re not trying hard enough. So what a pleasant surprise to find this novel that didn’t once make me sigh with irritation."
The food-related epigrams at the beginning of each chapter are themselves a delight. The book is light and fun. To enjoy its full effect, you might need to have an interest in cooking, good food, or fine dining. (Maybe I’ve already made this obvious.) Juliette’s persuasive, strong-willed brother wants her to join him in opening their own new restaurant. Her newspaper editor wants her to start a new column about entertaining and accept an invitation to give television cooking demonstrations. Every Sunday evening, her parents host a dinner for their four local adult children en famille. Even the deceased grandmother plays a culinary role, opening a pastry shop, well before the days when women ventured into business on their own. Only Neil, the Memphis immunologist getting to know the family from afar, has no keen interest in menu planning, pastry sampling and restaurant design. But he makes himself useful in helping Juliette piece together her grandmother’s past and sort out what she wants for her own future.
The recipes seem to be a little more complicated than the breezy plotline. Many call for ingredients that were never in my mother’s mid-American kitchen (vanilla beans rather than extract) or even in mine now, plus they introduce the novice cook to French or Italian vocabulary, not that that should deter an adventuresome spirit.
Hillary Manton Lodge has already written a two-part Amish-related fictional series. A TABLE BY THE WINDOW leaves enough stray threads that I wonder if there will be a sequel. I betcha so.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on April 27, 2014