Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette
Published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin
Grief is a funny thing: it can cause a woman who loses her husband, the love of her life, to walk around day after day bra-less, with her deceased husband’s camouflage apron tied over her clothes. This is Zell’s experience, at least, ever since the accident while her husband Nick was in New Orleans reporting on a local team who headed down for recovery efforts. The grief may also be part of the reason she voices what she imagines to be her dog, Captain Ahab’s, thoughts in pirate vernacular. Although she has rarely ever cooked anything – let alone baked something – Zell decides to enter the Polly Pinch baking contest when she realizes that the prize money is exactly the amount that Nick talked about raising for the people of New Orleans before he failed to come home. All the remains to be seen is whether this new venture will help her heal or cause her to sink more deeply into her depression.
I have to admit, I was slightly hesitant about “Simply from Scratch” at the beginning. Zell endeared herself greatly to me when she made comments about her newfound eccentricities being just her “widow style.” But then she started saying “balls” all over the place, which sort of shocked me. I wasn’t really expecting this from a widow entering a baking contest. But Zell isn’t your stereotypical widow. She’s a fiesty young woman who has had a terrible, unexpected loss. Although she has real, raw grief, she’s still a fiesty woman – even when it is only expressed by talking a pirate voice for a dog. Although I wasn’t sure what to think of her initially, Zell’s tough-exterior-ed vulnerability made her hugely endearing to me.
Bessette’s writing and plotting were strong. Indeed, I loved the way she slowly revealed what happened to Nick in New Orleans and what gift it was that he left her. But Zell was the real star of the story. Bessette wrote her in such a real way with such real heart that she was hugely endearing and brought me to a point near the end of “Simply from Scratch” where I could simply not bear to put down the book.
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