Sunday, July 22, 2018

Go Ask Fannie

Title:  Go Ask Fannie
Author:  Elisabeth Hyde
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2018. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0735218560 / 978-0735218567

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read Program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "If I give her enough rope, she'll hang herself, he thought."

Favorite Quote:  "Was there ever a death that involved no regret? ... more often than not, what he first heard in their moment of grief was the word 'should.'"

The "Fannie" of the title is not a character in the book but rather the culinary expert and cookbook author Fannie Merritt Farmer. For the three Blair siblings, the phrase "Go Ask Fannie" is a memory of their mother. They do not treasure the cookbook to which it refers for the recipes (this is definitely not a foodie book) but for the sometimes cryptic notes that cover most of the margins in the book. Sometimes, their mother wrote notes on the recipes. Sometimes, she wrote reminders.  Sometimes, she wrote ideas for stories.

In real time, this book is the story of a few days as all three siblings - Ruth, George, and Lizzie converge on their childhood home in New Hampshire. Their father Murry Blaire still lives there surrounded by his sunflowers, and a lifetime of memories fill the family home.

Each family member brings their own agenda for the weekend. Ruth is the oldest, the practical attorney who is used to mothering her family. George is an intensive care nurse. Lizzie is the one still trying to find herself.

Over the course of a few days, the conversations and the memories cover the lifetime of this family. As is true of all sibling relationships, there is love and there is baggage. A marriage, a Congressional campaign, a career put on hold, the death of a child, and the loss of a spouse become turning points for this family amidst the myriad details that comprise a life.

The fate of the cookbook itself is almost a side story in the book. It lands Lizzie in legal trouble and prompts some of the conversations about their mother. To me, that plot line is fodder to explain the sibling dynamics and a vehicle to bring forth the secrets of the past. It is not relevant in and of itself.

The heart of this book and the most interesting character in the book is the one least present in the book. The Blaire siblings lost their mother when they were children. Through flashbacks and memories, the reader gets a picture a woman who put aside her aspirations for her husband's career but who tried to create a life of her own in the stolen moments of solitude. The image is one many individuals will relate to.  The current story is about the three siblings as adults beginning to understand the woman and coming to terms with the trauma of their childhood. That image too is one many readers will relate to.

Close to the end of the book, Murray reveals the final piece of her story. It is not shown as a memory but presented as a revelation. He always knew. That revelation and the ending goes in an unexpected direction without a definitive conclusion. It shifts the focus from the siblings and their memories to the actual events of the past and leaves me wondering what actually happened. Perhaps, that is deliberate for it is quite true that sometimes we never find the answer; we simply make our peace.

Overall, the book remains a story of family and relationships that many people will identify with, perfect for a summer beach read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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