Thursday, June 30, 2016

DINNER WITH EDWARD :: Isabel Vincent

"I  heard about the promise Edward made to his dying wife long before I met him."

When I first saw the cover of Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship and read the description, I thought it sounded like one of the most charming books I could hope to read. I was so smitten with the concept I didn't realize until I was mid-read that the book is a memoir, based on the true story of a friendship between the author, investigative journalist Isabel Vincent, and the father of her friend Valerie.

When Valerie's mother passes away, she begins to worry about her father, the titular Edward. Edward and his wife had a remarkable love story and Edward is quite ready to die rather than live his life without her. Vincent initially thinks she is doing her friend Valerie a favor by stopping by to have dinner with Edward, but of course that favor ends up changing her life.

What follows is the story of Isabel and Edward's ongoing friendship, borne out over lavish meals prepared lovingly (and, a man after my own heart, quite anally) by Edward. If you are an epicurean (or epicurious - sorry, couldn't resist), you will greatly enjoy the details of the meals and pairings Edward puts together with such elan.

Though I am a lover of food, I'm not a chef by any stretch, and also vegetarian. So while it was somewhat interesting to read the meal descriptions and how Edward went about his craft, it didn't have the meaning to me that it might have to many others. I came for the relationship portion of the program.

Unfortunately, that's where I had the most problems. This book is charming, there is no doubt, and I wish I (and everyone else in the world) had an Edward. He is portrayed as a kind, patient, loving and lovely man who appears to be great company and a kickass chef (and cocktail mixer, even better). 

I loved Edward, and felt he was a great friend. But Vincent seemed, I'm sorry to say, somewhat self-absorbed. Which may be somewhat expected when you're in the throes of a life tailspin -  worried not only about yourself, but your young daughter. It's not that she didn't take an interest in Edward and his life, she did. And kudos to her for going to Edward's home for dinner regularly as she did. I simply didn't feel much reciprocity otherwise.

For example, Vincent has something of a life epiphany (which also felt as if it just happened a bit out of the blue, without further explanation) and throws a dinner party. While she calls Edward for help with the menu and recipes, there is no mention of inviting him. Was Edward unable to go out (he was able to go out to buy her a dress for a special occasion)? Could she not have arranged for him to attend somehow? If her relationship with Edward is really what made her figure her shit out, seems he should have been the guest of honor. 

Admittedly, this may be a small, nit-picky point, and the author is clear that her life was in something of a shambles, but it bothered me enough that it colored the story. I wasn't really able to look at Isabel the "character" the same way, particularly after she also forgot an important date. Was going to Edward's and letting him cook for her and share stories the extent of the friendship? Maybe I missed something and this is an unfair assessment. I'd love to hear from anyone who read this differently than I did.

STREET SENSE:  If you're looking for a charming chef with panache, Edward is your man. Everyone should be so lucky as to have an Edward and he was well worth reading about. This book is quite lovely, there's no doubt. If you're looking for a book that delves deeply into a special and unexpected friendship, however, this fell a touch short for me.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:   At ninety-three, Edward is almost twice my age. Born in Nashville, he likes his bourbon on the rocks, uses words like "moxie" in conversation, but he can also curse like a New Yorker. He doesn't own a cell phone or a computer; he writes in longhand, and he never watched television. "We live in the age of communications but nobody knows how to communicate anymore," he once said to me. "It's just e-mailing and texting, not communicating," Edward went on. "Nobody's dealing with reality. It's a shame."

COVER NERD SAYS:  I love the simple elegance of this cover. I imagine in real life it's letterpress, what with the creamy color and black and champagne fonts. It's simple, yet elegant and classy, fitting with the way I envision Edward. Really well done.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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