“Blood, Bones and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton

Subtitled “The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef,” Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood Bones and Butter was one I wanted to love. Then, as I read it, I wanted to like it in a sustained manner. By the end, though, I was finishing it just to finish it.

It has some wonderful stuff in it, particularly about the value of hard work, the echoes of childhood trauma, and kitchen culture. But for me, Hamilton’s book lacks a key element to a good memoir: a sense of humor, about oneself particularly. The book’s subject matter is not light stuff: childhood neglect, early drug abuse and an unpleasant marriage. But these felt all the heavier to read because of skipping around in time, and describing things in detail, multiple times, like her relationship with her sister:

“She’s the only one in my family who’s held on tight to me, and I will never let go of her.” (153)

“I fully and completely and 100 percent understand and comprehend what she is saying–to its fullest meaning–within hte first fifteen seconds. And unfailingly by the end of the third sentence. I’m not saying I’m that smart. I’m saying I get her that well. We Two Are One.” (154)

“I understand every single word of it, every stop for gas, every detour. I think exactly what she thinks.” (154)

“she’s the only member of my family that I still know the entire, detailed landscape of.” (156)

A few times she would announce an event as if the reader should know it, then go on to describe it. Why not just lead up to it? Further, she includes the insight of an older person who’s gone through therapy when writing events and relationships, rather than showing us those things through herself at that stage.

This book made my fingers itch to edit it: arrange events in chronological order, cut excessive description, remove the hindsight, and gently emphasize points of tenderness and humor. Despite some good parts, I can’t recommend it. It’s reviews are positive, though, so I’m in the minority on this one. YMMV.

2 Responses to ““Blood, Bones and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton”

  1. Kate Says:

    So, yet again, you’ve identified why I’ve been hesitant to pick up a book. As you might imagine, I’ve read all about this book and even excerpts (the New Yorker?), and yet have not picked it up. Lack of a sense of humor is why, but I didn’t realize it till you identified it.

  2. Joy Weese Moll Says:

    Thanks. This is on my hold list at the library, but now I know to approach it with some skepticism. I’ll follow the 50 page rule on this one and not assume that I’m going to read the whole thing just because I have it.