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Subtitled A Cook’s Story, Remaking a Life from Scratch. Growing up, French toiled in her father’s diner in this small eponymous Maine town. He was an alcoholic with anger issues. She escaped from Freedom via college but had to come back home at 19, pregnant. With incredible drive, a deep feel for food, and thrifting skills, she managed to create a successful restaurant in a nearby town. But she’d also fallen for Tom, a possible father-figure for her son. A nightmare, it turned out—in effect she had married her father. A descent into booze and prescription drugs (a clueless doctor who threw pills at her to muffle her pain) with a long crawl out. Now her Lost Kitchen restaurant in Freedom is so successful you have to enter a lottery to snag a table. Kind of a Cinderella story but she was her own fairy godmother. I listened to the audio version and especially enjoyed the passion and sincerity I heard in the author’s voice.
That’s April—blonde, seductive, high-living and cruel. Not what you’d expect at Oxford. Her quiet roommate Hannah often tags along to riotous parties. One night Hannah finds April dead in their suite. A weird porter is convicted through Hannah’s testimony and dies in prison years later. A reporter who has been following the case believes he didn’t do it. Hannah’s haunted with doubts herself. A tricksy denouement (Ware’s specialty). A classic thriller which I read in one gulp.
Short stories about aspirations and good intentions gone awry. Like the couple who rent a cottage in a cliquey, cozy community. They feel out of place but try to fit in. The host next door might make a difference in the husband’s law career. They discover he’s a raging racist. Uh-oh. Other stories of naive Americans abroad reveal the gulf between what they think is appropriate local behavior with the stark or subtle realities they discover. Often cringe-worthy with so many ways to get it wrong. I must admit the pleasure of schadenfreude when I encounter human frailties on the page.
Amanda had a fulfilling job in Silicon Valley but when husband Mark gets a Fulbright, they pull up stakes and move to Namibia. There she joins the other “trailer” wives with nothing significant to do and it’s frustrating. Persephone fills the eponymous role, helping new expats adjust to embassy life. (Mark’s studies are loosely connected to the government.) Politeness reigns with striving and bitchiness right under the surface. Mila, gorgeous wife of the Minister of Transportation whose kids attend the international school, befriends Amanda as well with ulterior motives. Local color, wicked humor, bit of a fairy-tale ending. Very entertaining.