Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Good Plain Cook-Bethan Roberts

The Good Plain Cook
Bethan Roberts
Serpent Tails, Nov 1 2009, $15.95
ISBN: 9781846686658

In 1936 in rural Sussex affluent American widow Ellen Steinberg advertises for a cook at her new country home. Nineteen year old Kitty Allen, needing to find a place to stay, applies for the position and to her shock though she lacks any experience gets the job because of her résumé filled with lies.

Ellen expects Kitty to make whatever meal she orders for herself, her poet lover George Crane, her eleven year old daughter Geenie and George’s tweener daughter Diana. Her employer also insists on openness from everyone as she knocks down interior walls to affirm her beliefs. Ironically she hides her feelings of guilt re her husband’s death from her daughter. Meanwhile George begins writing bad poetry to Kitty while bewildered Geenie and confused Diana observe his actions with both unhappy about it. Geenie also blames Kitty for her inability to get the attention of her negligent mother. Like everyone else except perhaps Arthur the gardener, Kitty struggles with her place in this dysfunctional household.

Filled with symbolism of breaking down barriers to relationships in order to build stronger affinities, the aptly titled The Good Plain Cook is a terrific character driven historical nove; Kitty and the two children are innocents with the newcomer becoming an object of affection of the poet who sees her as his symbolic muse yet can’t seem to write poetry while his benefactor assumes he is writing an ode to their love; the kids are watchers of the adults using pretense to conceal feelings behind self built defense mechanism, which they emulate in differing manners as Geenie is overtly angry and Diana introvertly fearful. All five players are fully developed in this well written depression Era drama.

Harriet Klausner

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