January 22, 2007
Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Finished on 1/16/07
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
The smell of good bread baking,
like the sound of lightly flowing water,
is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.
M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992)
The life of 31-year-old trophy wife Wynter Morrison suddenly changes course when her husband announces one evening that their marriage is over. Emotionally devastated and desperate for a change of scenery, Wyn moves to Seattle where she spends aimless hours at a local bakery, sipping coffee and inhaling the sweet aromas of freshly-made bread. These visits bring back memories of her long-ago apprenticeship at a French boulangerie, and when offered a position at the bakery, Wyn quickly accepts -- hoping that the rituals of baking will help her move on.
Working long hours among the bakery's cluster of eclectic women -- Linda, the irascible bread baker; earth mother Ellen and her partner Diane; and Tyler, the blue-haired barista -- Wyn awakens to the truths that she missed while living the good life in Hancock Park.
Soon Wyn discovers that making bread possesses an unexpected and wondrous healing power, helping her to rediscover that nothing stays the same... bread rises, pain fades, the heart heals, and the future beckons.
It’s been over five years since I first read Bread Alone. I enjoyed it quite well (gave it a B+ 7/10 Good rating) and looked forward to reading the sequel (The Baker's Apprentice) when it was published. Of course, that book sat on a shelf for a few years, but I finally decided to add it to my stack for this month's reading selection. As soon as I finished The Way the Crow Flies, I was ready for something light and fluffy. I picked up my copy of The Baker’s Apprentice, settled in with a cup of tea and a warm kitty on my lap. But before I even finished the first paragraph, I set it back down and grabbed my copy of Bread Alone. What a perfect excuse for a re-read. While I remembered the basic premise of the novel, most of the details were long forgotten, which was kind of nice. Felt like I was reading it for the first time. I didn’t want to start in on the sequel with a lot of mental gaps.
Bread Alone is an entertaining “beach read” in spite of the fairly predictable plot. I enjoyed the details about working in a bakery, as well as the romantic subplot. It’s always entertaining to read a book in which the setting is one in which I’m familiar. In addition to having lived in southern California for twenty years, I have also spent a bit of time in the Seattle area, so it was fun to read all the references to both locales. It’s been ages since I’ve tasted a cheeseburger from In-n-Out Burger, admired the beautiful hillsides covered in fuscia bougainvillea, strolled through Pike Place Market, or cruised the San Juan Islands, but I haven’t forgotten how much I enjoyed them. Reading about them is the next best thing. The author even mentions the beach town I grew up in (Del Mar, California). Don’t see that too often in novels.
As much as I love to cook and bake, I have never made a loaf of bread. Well, unless you count all the loaves I’ve made with my bread machine. But I’m pretty sure that doesn’t compare to mixing all the ingredients and kneading the dough by hand. Hendricks includes several recipes and my book is littered with Post-It Note flags. Ever the optimist, I hope to try my hand at at least one or two.
Re-reading a book is always a risk, but this proved to be worth the effort, especially since I wound up enjoying it even more than I did the first time around. The dialogue rings true and flows with ease. Certainly not great literature, but a feel-good beach read that’s sure to tempt anyone to try their hand at baking bread. Or move to the Pacific Northwest! I wouldn’t mind doing both.
I am going to learn to make bread to-morrow. So you may imagine me with my sleeves rolled up, mixing flour, milk, saleratus, etc., with a deal of grace. I advise you if you don't know how to make the staff of life to learn with dispatch.
Emily Dickinson, American poet (1830-1886)