Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette

I don't even know where to start on this one. I have been stunned by Alicia Bessette's debut novel, Simply from Scratch, for a few reasons, and that's as good a place to start as any:

1. I know Alicia. I wrote about her husband, Matthew Quick, when HIS debut novel came out. They live in my town, both ran in the Collingswood Library Book Run that I also did, and I sometimes see Alicia out walking the couple's grayhound. She says she's seen me running around town, too. We had a lengthy discussion about my bright red arm sleeves, which are like long sleeves for running but without being attached to a shirt.

Where she ever found the ability to write about a recently widowed woman, I do not know. I've never been widowed or lost someone close to me who was not a grandparent, but she manages to write from such a deep well of grief for the main character, Rose-Ellen, whose husband is killed suddenly (I won't say how because that would ruin some of the plot techniques Bassette uses of sharing parcels of Nick's death along the way without saying exactly what happened until the end). The book picks up over a year after Rose-Ellen was widowed and is still in the depths of depression. I can't even tell you how many times I cried during this book, and still I have this feeling of a big black hole in my heart, a "what if" something like what happened to Rose-Ellen happened to me.

2. I didn't like the book when I started reading it. I got a copy of the book because I'm writing a piece about beach books written by New Jersey authors, so of course I wanted to consider Bassette's. I had no idea what it was about when I asked.

The first few chapters of the book is clunky, littered with adverbs and overwrought descriptions. But I stuck with the book, and it soon evened out. I read it while doing laundry. I read it before dinner. I put on a DVD after dinner but turned it off and stayed on my couch until I finished the book. Yes, it is THAT GOOD.

My only regret in telling you this is that the book doesn't come out until August. Her publicist rushed me an unfinished proof to read because of my deadline.

It could be that the intro that was a stumbling block to me will be smoother if you decided to give Simply From Scratch a go. And I suggest you do.

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