She may be a cookbook author, but Betty Fussell's extra-tart autobiography is no ordinary gastronomic memoir. For starters, her attitude toward cooking ("the one activity, besides tennis, in which housewives were encouraged to excel") is decidedly ambivalent. A chapter entitled "Attack by Whisk and Cuisinart" paints a devastating portrait of entertaining as a competitive sport, in which women who spend weeks planning and executing elaborate dinner parties must "pretend there'd been no labor, no expense, no fatigue, no sweat ... the aim was to look like a hot tomato while remaining cucumber-cool." For another thing, anyone with Fussell's gift for apt metaphor should enjoy chapters like "To Arms with Squeezer and Slicer," or "Invasion of the Waring Blenders," whose titles wittily encapsulate their content and would be wasted on mere recipes or recollections of Chefs I Have Known. Instead, she limns the experience of a generation of women who flung themselves into domesticity after World War II with mixed results, which in the author's case included an ultimately failed marriage to cultural historian Paul Fussell (who is not treated gently here). Smart, funny, even appetizing at times, her book takes one woman's story as a case study of the role food plays in our lives and in our culture. --Wendy Smith
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From Publishers Weekly
As befits a noted food historian and writer (I Hear America Cooking), Fussell recounts how the domestic wars of her childhood, marriage and family life played out in a succession of kitchensAin brilliant vignettes marked by appealing humor, biting irony and unflinching honesty. In the house where Fussell was born, the scene of her father's delight in squeezing oranges became, before Fussell was two, that of the death of her high-strung mother, with an open tin of rat poison mutely testifying to the cause. Until Fussell escaped to college, she endured the harsh restrictions of a hostile stepmother whose favorite appliance was the pressure cooker. At school, Fussell concentrated on the primary mission of every girl in the late 1940s: landing a man. When she married Paul, a literature student, the inevitable wedding present of that eraAa Waring blenderAsymbolized the beginning of a sophisticated lifestyle. Paul focused on his career in academe, while Betty enthusiastically embraced her role as wife and mother, and turned entertaining into a competitive sport. In the 1960s, the Fussells' circle turned to erotic excess: Betty recalls drunken wife-swapping and her own illicit affair, and she offers gossipy tidbits about Kingsley Amis and Philip Roth. Paul's book, The Great War and Modern Memory, brought him acclaim but, according to Betty, he continually demeaned her writing efforts. Their marriage failed after his homosexual affair with a student. Fussell was finally able to make her own way using what the French call a "batterie de cuisine" (kitchen artillery), displaying her considerable talents in such publications as the New York Times and nine of her own books. Agent, Gloria Loomis, Watkins Loomis Agency. First serial to the New Yorker; 8-city author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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