BOOK: In That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay, Eve Petworth, a divorced British mother in her 40s, writes a fan letter to American novelist Jackson Cooper, praising his description of a ripe, juicy peach.
"The scene where Harry Gordon eats the peach ('leaning over and holding back his green silk tie with one arm while the juice christened the shirt cuff of the other') introduced a moment of summer into a watery English day," she says. "And it reminded me, as well, of the almost decadent pleasure that comes with eating fully matured fruit — sadly, a rarity."
Cooper responds and thereby initiates an increasingly intimate exchange of letters between the two, who share a love of well-prepared comfort food, such as lavender scones and homemade marmalade. The famous author gently shifts attention away from his writing and toward Eve, while coyly revealing more about himself. "I am better at cooking than I am at most anything else," he says, downplaying the skills that have made him a famous author of detective fiction. "At writing I can cross the finish line well enough, but not in any particular style. And with people, I have a tendency to trip at the first hurdle."
He shares with Eve his favorite recipes, including one for Granny Cooper's Peanut Cookies. Eve responds in kind with a recipe for her Grandmother's Christmas Cake. Eve describes her anxiety attacks and ruminates on her troubled relationship with her daughter, who is about to be married. Cooper confesses to struggles both with writer's block and a difficult ex-wife. Soon, these two strangers, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, are enjoying a friendship as satisfying in its warmth and intimacy as a steamy affair.
WHY READ? That Part Was True can be considered romantic, in its own way, but it is definitely not a typical romance. "I set out to write about loneliness and isolation and the way that friendship can be found in surprising places," British author McKinlay said in an online interview. "I needed some bond that could grow between people who, on the surface, had little in common." Her book, then, is less about romance and sex than it is a tribute to the quiet pleasures of sharing little confessions with a kindred spirit (although the author keeps the reader wondering throughout if the two correspondents will meet in Paris). The book is being made into a film by BBC Films, possibly because a similar tale, 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, did so well when it made the leap from page to screen.
MAKE IT: Because food plays such a large role in the lives of Eve and Jackson, and the exchange of family recipes amounts to a gesture of trust and mutual appreciation, a discussion of the book would benefit from a taste of Granny Cooper's Peanut Cookies, with the peanuts roasted just as granny preferred them, according to her grandson.
Tom Valeo, Times correspondent
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches possible book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions, send an email to [email protected] Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.