Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

If any contemporary author deserves to wear the mantel of Jane Austen, it's Goodman, whose subtle, astute social comedies perfectly capture the quirks of human nature. This dazzling novel is Austen updated for the dot-com era, played out between 1999 and 2001 among a group of brilliant risk takers and truth seekers.

Still in her 20s, Emily Bach is the CEO of Veritech, a Web-based data-storage startup in trendy Berkeley. Her boyfriend, charismatic Jonathan Tilghman, is in a race to catch up at his data-security company, ISIS, in Cambridge, Mass. Emily is low-key, pragmatic, kind, serene—the polar opposite of her beloved younger sister, Jess, a crazed postgrad who works at an antiquarian bookstore owned by a retired Microsoft millionaire. When Emily confides her company's new secret project to Jonathan as a proof of her love, the stage is set for issues of loyalty and trust, greed, and the allure of power. What is actually valuable, Goodman's characters ponder: a company's stock, a person's promise, a forest of redwoods, a collection of rare cookbooks?

Goodman creates a bubble of suspense as both Veritech and ISIS issue IPOs, career paths collide, social values clash, ironies multiply, and misjudgments threaten to destroy romantic desire. Enjoyable and satisfying, this is Goodman's ( Intuition ) most robust, fully realized and trenchantly meaningful work yet.

My take: 3 looks
While this was a very entertaining and compelling book, it was in no way like a Jane Austen novel. For a reviewer to state such is unfair to the author. I liked the characters and the story, but found a bit too much going on at times, and several rabbit chases that left me unfulfilled. They story was heavy on Judaism, which was a bit confusing to me. It didn't seem to be a vital part of the story, but merely a fact (albeit important fact) of Gillian's past. Her daughters discovered the secret, each dealing with it in her own way, but that part of the story came too late in the book to explore or pursue. The fact that they were related to the family living behind their father was a little too tidy, or a little too creepy, for me to believe.

And what happened to Orion? Did he and Sorel just ride off into the sunset? What became of Molly? Did she continue to live in their apartment and become a doctor? Did she, too, become disenfranchised with her path and change it completely? Did Leon finally save the trees?

These are the reasons I give three stars instead of four. I will, however, read more by this author.

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