Poet of the Appetites

poetoftheappetitesPoet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher
by Joan Reardon
528 pages
North Point Press, October 27, 2004
Amazon paperback $45.00, Hardcover – out of print

I was casting about for my next book to read when I noticed this one sitting on my shelf. It was a hardcover remainder that I had purchased more than ten years ago. It had somehow made the arbitrary and capricious cut of books that actually found their was here to Hemet in our move of last year.

You are probably familiar with the writer M.F.K. Fisher. She had many decades of success writing books and articles about food and travel. She was born Mary Frances Kennedy and her first husband was named Al Fisher. She first used the moniker M.F.K. Fisher when she published her first article in the Southern California auto club magazine and didn’t want her father, the editor of the local newspaper in Whittier, to know the article was hers. That attempt failed, but the pen name remained, even through two additional marriages.

The life the author lived is different from the life she portrayed in her writing. Biographer Joan Reardon tells us early in the first chapter:

quoteMary Frances also gradually realized that writing, like cooking, was not so much about the facts as it was about creating a certain kind of control over reality and power over the one who consumed. Whether it was at the stove or at the typewriter, spicing up a dish—blackberries on a bland pudding, extra curry in a stew—and embroidering a story would become her signature.

This theme is pervasive throughout the book. She went through three marriages, multiple affairs, missed deadlines, abandoned projects, and carrying the burden of keeping the family together at various times in her life. The reality is at odds, Reardon tells us, with the persona in her writing of the epicure living the good life.

The book, at 528 pages, is heavily documented and intricately detailed. Sometimes too detailed. Reardon, however, is a skilled writer and she moves the narrative forward at a brisk pace in spite of the detail. She engaged my attention and kept me turning the pages.

If you’ve ever wanted to know about the life of  M.F.K. Fisher this book will tell you just about as much as there is to know about her.

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