Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector
A charming contemporary retelling of a Jane Austen classic
Charm and wit abounds in Allegra Goodman’s mannerly tale of two young sisters living in California at the peak of the dot-com boom and beyond. Both Jessamine Bach, a philosophy student and activist, and Emily Bach, a CEO of an emerging company called Veritech, are kind and insightful. Despite their obvious differences, they share a warm relationship, a desire to hew to their ideals and a nagging curiosity about their deceased mother’s past. But Goodman’s deceptively quiet novel — a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — grows more dramatic as Emily must balance a volatile stock market and an equally volatile, ambitious boyfriend running his own tech company on the East Coast. Jess, meanwhile, is working in an antiquarian bookstore when her wealthy, debonair boss makes the discovery of an ultra-rare and fascinating cookbook collection and charges her with the tempting mission of cataloguing it — a task at odds with her boyfriend’s Save the Trees mission. As the years tick by toward September 11 and a plummeting Nasdaq, Goodman’s characters become painfully aware of the transient nature of things — their fancy cars and homes, their speculative paper fortunes. Even the cookbooks, with their detailed engravings and ancient, exotic feasts, which delight everyone who encounters them, seem only to be a pale substitute for their readers’ real desires. Goodman’s romantic comedy seduces with its culinary pleasures, psychological charms and historic savvy, with a dose of weighty spiritual inquiry for good measure.