Novel’s steamy recipe fiz­zles

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - BOOKS -

THE early life of food writer and famed bon vi­vant MFK Fisher is chron­i­cled in Ash­ley War­lick’s fifth novel, The Ar­range­ment. Set in De­pres­sion-era Cal­i­for­nia and pre­war Europe, this sweep­ing lit­er­ary tale is all about hunger — both for food and love.

Af­ter spend­ing the first few years of her mar­riage in Di­jon, France, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher and her hus­band Al move back to Cal­i­for­nia. As the econ­omy dries up, so too does Al’s cre­ativ­ity. He re­sents Mary Frances, whose tal­ent as a writer is blos­som­ing, and she re­sents Al for his lack of pas­sion in and out of the bed­room.

At­tempt­ing to pre­serve what’s left of her mar­riage, Mary Frances turns to food, recre­at­ing the beloved dishes she and Al fell in love with in France. Just shy of turn­ing wa­ter to wine, Mary Frances uses what she has in scarce times to cre­ate ex­trav­a­gant meals, us­ing her ex­per­i­ments in the kitchen as in­spi­ra­tion for her es­says.

Nav­i­gat­ing her new nor­mal, Mary Frances draws ever closer to her hus­band’s best friend, Tim, find­ing in him a con­fi­dant and men­tor. As her writ­ing evolves from hobby to call­ing, she hides her suc­cess from Al and opens up to Tim. Un­happy and re­pressed, Mary Frances wants more – she wants to be suc­cess­ful, wants wants to be loved.

And she wants Tim. In a time when di­vorce was un­ac­cept­able and quiet affairs were prefer­able, Mary Frances learns how to take charge of what she wants, even though the con­se­quences of her tryst with Tim are far-reach­ing.

When Tim’s mar­riage falls apart, Mary Frances and Al con­tinue a bizarre re­la­tion­ship with Tim’s wife Gigi, mov­ing in with her and tak­ing on the roles of care­tak­ers in Tim’s ab­sence. Con­fronted by the reper­cus­sions of her in­fi­delity, Mary Frances strug­gles to choose be­tween her hus­band and his friend, and de­cides in­stead to hone her sto­ry­telling. Leav­ing be­hind Mary Frances, she be­comes MFK Fisher.

Torn be­tween her de­sire for Tim and the fear of her mar­riage fall­ing apart, Mary Frances em­barks on an un­con­ven­tional jour­ney to Europe with Tim, act­ing as a com­pan­ion to his ag­ing mother. Leav­ing Al and pro­pri­ety be­hind, Tim and Mary Frances fi­nally give in to one an­other. They break off their af­fair when their tour of France comes to a close, but try to con­tinue their re­la­tion­ship when they move to Tim’s artist’s re­treat in the Swiss Alps. It is here that Al fi­nally re­al­izes the in­evitable demise of his mar­riage.

An ac­com­plished au­thor and foodie, Ash­ley War­lick is a fit­ting au­thor­ity on MFK Fisher. How­ever, her writ­ing in The Ar­range­ment is awk­ward and stilted — much like the un­com­fort­able love tri­an­gle Mary Frances forges with her hus­band and his best friend. Jump­ing through time with lit­tle grace and even less emo­tion, War­lick turns a fas­ci­nat­ing story of for­bid­den ro­mance into a dis­pas­sion­ate tale of adul­tery. Of­ten gloss­ing over the more dif­fi­cult parts of the story — like Al leav­ing Mary Frances and Tim tak­ing his own life — War­lick paints a bland pic­ture of MFK Fisher. Though based on solid writ­ing and re­search, The Ar­range­ment misses the mark. By Ash­ley War­lick Vik­ing, 308 pages,

$34 Ka­t­rina Sk­le­powich is a lover of all

things lit­er­ary, and cre­ator of the Lit­er­ally, Ka­t­rina pod­cast and blog at Lit­er­al­lyKa­t­rina.com.

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