01 June 2011

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

Description from 'Amazon.com': "Friendship Bread begins with the mysterious present of starter bread batter and expands to show how the smallest gifts can change entire lives.

Julia Evarts has sustained a tragedy of heartbreaking proportions. She manages to care for her little daughter, but she can’t tolerate being near her once-beloved sister Livvy. Her marriage to her husband Mark hangs by a thread. Julia’s grief and estrangement is a constant torture for her. She can no longer find joy in her life.

Hannah de Brisay is a talented cellist who has devoted herself to her art from the age of three. She’s young, vibrant, and celebrated, when a back injury prevents her from playing professionally again. Philippe, her partner in marriage and in music, sticks her in the charming town of Avalon while he is away--playing, in all senses of the word.

Madeline Davis has also had her share of sorrow. She’s older, though, and perhaps even wiser. Certainly she knows, as this captivating book shows, that nurturing others often helps you heal yourself. In her small tea salon, these women come together and begin the slow alchemy of friendship and personal transformation.

Much more happens, too: an ambitious journalist named Edie causes problems for everyone in town; a sexy architect named Vivian works very hard to seduce Julia’s husband Mark; and Connie Coll loses her job as a Laundromat attendant with surprising consequences. Other residents of Avalon make delightful cameos as they deal with their unexpected gifts of Friendship Bread. Some are happy about it. Some aren’t."


I read this book in one sitting during a 3 hour train ride. It was light, pleasant and certainly engaging.

The story begins when a woman with tragedy in her past and apathy in her present receives an anonymous gift - a bag of 'Amish Friendship Bread' starter. From that moment, we are drawn into the tiny Illinois town of Avalon, where life-long residents and newcomers of all description will find their lives entwined through the giving and receiving of these strange, gooey bags of batter.

I think the premise of the book is a little hokey, and the trajectories of each woman's story is predictable, but even so I really enjoyed reading it! I found myself rooting for the women, hoping that each would gain the intended 'right' perspective from the making and sharing of their baked goods.

Gee's power of description is subtle and strong - there were times when I could almost smell the baking cinnamon through the pages. She brought women of all varieties to life throughout the story, and truly showed them as distinct individuals with whom I could really relate. Her male characters are under-developed but I think that was intentional, as for the most part they played relatively inconsequential roles in the story - only Mark, the husband of the very first recipient, is given much room to tell his story - but then, his story is integral to the movement of the plot.

I really enjoyed this book, much more than I expected to - in general, "women's fiction" is not my cup of tea. I give it 4 stars, and definitely recommend it as a light and airy read.

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