Monday, January 31, 2011

RED HOOK ROAD, by Ayelet Waldman

By Ayelet Waldman

Available here on Amazon.

I found RED HOOK ROAD a poignant novel. Like Waldman's earlier work, LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS (FFT review here), her latest book also deals with relationships, heart wrenching loss, profound grief, and unexpected healing.

Our sorrows and wounds are healed
only when we touch them with compassion.

Class and cultural divides provide the fundamental basis for the characters of this book. The Copakens are Jewish, privileged, and summer residents. The Tetherlys are Protestant, blue-collar, and Maine natives. The story spans four years of summers spent in a typical small coastal town of Maine. Both families, stricken with unbearable grief, find themselves awkwardly charting the course of their intertwined lives after a fatal car accident takes the lives of their newlywed children.

The mother of the bride, Iris, whose family has summered in Maine for three generations, is a sophisticated New Yorker, a professor, and daughter of a renown classical violinist. Jane, mother of the groom, is a native Mainer who cleans houses for a living. Both strong women, the reader is taken close to the heart of a mother's loss of a child.

The wedding rehearsal dinner, an occasion of exquisite joy, was held the evening of July 4th at the Copaken summer home on the Maine shore. Now a painful year later, the bride's younger sister, Ruthie, wants to repeat that joyful evening with a 4th of July picnic complete with fireworks just as they had done the night before the fateful accident. "A celebration?" Yes, a celebration of Becca and John. We'd all be together and celebrate their lives." Frozen in grief, few others can muster enthusiasm for Ruthie's attempt to heal her broken heart and find a way to honor the memory of the deceased young couple.

Once Iris agrees to Ruthie's idea, she must take on the matter of convincing Jane to agree to attend the party. In an attempt to persuade Jane, Iris bakes one of her famous bundt cakes and arrives at Jane's kitchen with cake in hand. Food for Thought was abundant in this book, but with the dichotomy of the class and cultural differences it seemed appropriate to focus on the diverse offerings from the kitchens of Iris and Jane.

"Iris baked a lime pound cake. It was her most impressive cake; she used a Bundt pan embossed with a complicated pattern of grape clusters and vines. The cake baked up tall and golden brown, and the lime sugar glaze crackled tangy and sweet when you bit into it."

In stark contrast, Jane's cooking moment is her yearly 4th of July contribution of Nilla wafer pudding.

"Jane peeled back the plastic wrap from the Nilla wafer pudding. She had actually been looking forward to not being obliged to make the damn pudding this year, but then, when she had decided to come, she seemed to be unable to prevent herself. And so once again she had found herself standing in her kitchen, slicing four dozen bananas while staring at a sampler her mother-in-law had embroidered for her as a first anniversary gift, with its homely saying that had struck Jane, then as now, as an ironic if not overtly hostile comment on Jane's skill in the kitchen. "Bake a little love into every bite," it read, in letters once bright red and now faded to a murky pink. But the subsequent improvement in Jane's cooking had little to do with love. Baking was no different than anything else; there was a right and a wrong way to do it, and no room for forgiveness of one's mistakes. While she had waited for the meringue to brown in the oven, she had wondered if the bile, fury, and scorn she was baking into every bit of this particular Nilla wafer pudding would manage to affect its flavor."

Nilla wafer pudding was prominent in several passages of this book so it the seemed the most appropriate food connection.

Nilla wafer pudding brought back memories of my own childhood growing up in a small community. I don't recall that my mother ever made anything as exotic as a meringue topping on the banana puddings from her kitchen, but they were delicious.

I found the original Nabisco recipe for Nilla Banana Pudding here. It 's easy to make, and I have to say there was something refreshing about watching the pudding thicken as it cooked over the double boiler.

The meringue topping was definitely

the crowning glory for my taste buds!

Try it!

I'm not a voracious reader like most who share at FFT, and I'm ashamed to admit that this book lingered on my bedside table far too long before I opened its covers. Waldman is a master at character development and gives her readers an intimate look into the lives of those who fill the pages of her books. Her stories are love stories woven with honesty and the pain that many encounter when one loves deeply. A favorite quote I'll long remember from this work: "A long marriage, like a classic wooden boat, could be a thing of grace, but only if great effort was devoted to its maintenance."

Though RED HOOK ROAD is a story of tragic death, complicated relationships, and the painful journey of two families who must learn to cope with unbearable loss, don't be reluctant to read this one. Ayelet Waldman's writing offers up beautiful lessons to be gained, and there's plenty of Nilla wafer pudding in the offering.

Coastal Maine has long held a bit of mystique for me. It seems to be a far away world of rugged coastlines, wooden boats, lobster boils, and clam bakes. Perhaps a 4th of July spent at a summer house on the coast of Maine would be a nice change for this Texas girl.

Click here for more Edible Book Reviews at Food For Thought, a delicious blog for readers with an appetite for the written word.

The summer we married, my husband was in graduate school, and I was employed as a teacher. We took a portion of our savings that summer and purchased a sailboat. We christened our Catalina 22, “Hyacinths For The Soul” after Saadi’s poem. Our "Hyacinths" provided years of pleasure.


  1. What a beautiful story Sarah! I'll definitely read this. My Mom is a farm girl from Northern Maine, and yes it's on of my favorite places that we vacation. and you should go! I have oodles of wonderful family memories from there. Your post is so "Yummy" I love the look of that pudding and I'm going to give it a try...The Nilla wafers haven't changed since we were kids. Amazing, I think even the box is basically the same...Thank you for sharing and adding to my list of Must Reads and Yummy recipes to try... Hugs to you, Donna

  2. I'm always happy to find a recommendation for a good read - and this one sounds good. Banana pudding such as you've presented isn't something that's really known here. I've read about it - and I think that Oprah once talked about it or had a recipe in her magazine. We love bananas, so perhaps I'll give this a try on Sunday. It sounds rich!

  3. Sarah~ I'm embarrassed to admit I've had this book downloaded to my iPod ready to listen to since October on my SIL's recommendation! You've inspired to go back to it...I've always wanted to vacation on the Maine coast in the summer or fall.

    Your banana pudding looks delish~ I love your fun cutouts/scrapbook pieces decorating the top of it, so clever :-) My husband is a big fan of banana pudding & is not so much a fan of cake and celebrating a birthday, so it might just be a birthday pudding for him!

    I enjoyed your review, FFT is always so fun for me! I'm going back to refresh my memory of the earlier review you did of this author!

  4. Delicious review once again for FFT, dear Sarah.
    The desserts featured are not ones I come across everyday, the Nilla wafers are totally new to me.
    Mr B & I have had the opportunity to vacation a few times in Maine.
    My favourite T shirt, for a long time, bore the legend ~
    "Maine, the way life should be".
    a purchase made when we visited our mutual friend Miz Bobbie in 2000.
    I'll definitely be adding this book to my must read list.

  5. Sarah, I am so glad you reviewed this. It sounds like a wonderful book. And I took one look at that banana pudding and thought of Fred's grandmother. She made a scrumptious one, and I think it was my favorite dessert she served at her home.

    Thanks for the review...


    Sheila :-)

  6. I know I would love this book..
    Love the coast of Maine.. the story you have told makes me want to read more..

    I don't remember my mom making fancy things either but everything was delicious and comforting.

    Your Bundt looks great the lime addition would suit me fine..

    Thank you.

  7. Sarah,

    I read this book last summer when I was in Maine. I think the author captured the spirit of the summer people (those from away)and the natives.

    Maine is a very special place and the coast is beautiful.

    I am glad you enjoyed the book and I enjoyed your post.


  8. Sarah, you have intrigued me with your book review. I will download it to my Kindle.

    Banana Pudding is a classic in this part of the country. It makes an appearance at almost all gatherings.

  9. I enjoyed your review and think the descriptions of food are great! I don't know that I'll have time to read this, but am glad to have your thoughts for recommending it to others. :)

  10. This is something I will put on my nook list...thanks!!

  11. This sounds like a book I would like. I will add it to my list!

  12. oh that was fabulous... i didn't want to read this book when it came out, but you made me add it to my wish list, it sounds good~

    but your food... omg... i am eating dif this year and you are my past... my glorious past of all my favorite sweet treats... mouthwatering isn't even doing justice to what i feel... i wish i could dip my spoon in both just for a wonderful taste, i am sure my eyes would roll back in my head :)

    thanks so much for sharing such a lush review, food for the soul and brain, gotta love it!

  13. I think this is a wonderful book! I love how you told it! Yes, I want some pudding! Now! Going for your link, I haven't made it in years and years!

  14. Oh my, Sarah! This looks so yummy! Now I think I have to make a banana puddin' we say in the South! :-) My SIL will appreciate that! Sounds like a good book, too!Hope you are having a great week!...hugs...Debbie

  15. Love the book cover, Sarah! Your vanilla pudding loks very tempting..Christine

  16. I really like the way you presented the book and it's characters through different recipes. I think that so many women from the south associate holidays with the food they prepare for them. It is almost as if our love for family is expressed through the time and effort we spend making our meals special. Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. Sarah, I'd love a vacation in Maine. Let's meet there! This sounds like such a good book, and your nilla banana pudding looks delicious! I've never made meringue. I'm intimidated by it. Yours turned out beautifully. Great book review. laurie

  18. Thank you Sarah for the excellent book review. I think I would really like this. I am SURE I would like the banana pudding. :)


  19. What a great review. Sounds like one I would enjoy. I am still in The Egyptologist, it is kind of a slow read, but I am enjoying it. I have never heard of the meringue on top of the pudding but it looks fabulous. Your pictures are so appetizing.

    Glad to hear of another with a fondness for Dove chocolates. I couldn't put it on the blog because I do have readers from Belgium, but I think they hold nothing over Dove, it has to be the most mouth melting chocolate ever!

  20. It sounds like a good book, Sarah, with lots of interesting character development. I haven't made a banana pudding in years! The meringue topping looks so good.
    The Maine coastline is very beautiful in summer. I've always enjoyed my trips there and I'm sure you'd like it!

  21. Thanks so much for the review. What an awesome book it must be.

    My mother and also my mother in law always put a meringue on their banana pudding so therefore that's the only way I ever make it. :)

  22. Your cake and pudding look wonderful! I don't think I could read that book, too sad. Would bring back memories of when my 18 yr old nephew was killed, the grief IS unbearable.

  23. Wow, what a beautiful post! The book sounds wonderful, and your banana pudding looks so delicious!

    Thanks for visiting my blog! It's my first time linking up to Food For Thought - now I see exactly what it's all about with your gorgeous picture!


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