Everything is under control by Phyllis Grant

A memoir with recipes.

And of course everything is not under control from her anorexia as a young dancer to her early relationship with her husband-to-be prior to marriage to her post-partum depression after both children. But running alongside it all is food and how it has moved from generation to generation on both sides of her family.

The text is sparse, set out on the pages like a poem but takes the form of a short chapter. The memories are chronological and draw out the heart of each event but without building on each other. There is sexual harassment in the kitchens, getting married having children and becoming a doula.

I now pronounce you wife and husband. Phyllis, you may kiss the groom.

I rise up onto my barefoot tippy-toes and kiss him hard.

With tongue.

And then we eat twelve cakes.

No page numbers.

Not much is said here but we can see that husband and wife is reversed and Phyllis does the kissing telling us much about how she sees the world and a woman’s place in it. She’s not afraid to show passion, almost as if she is claiming him and why is she barefooted? What does this say about how she was dressed for the occasion? Is twelve an important number? So, only a little text but plenty of work for the reader to do.

Some of the text is italicised, for example the first sentence in the quote above showing speech but sometimes it identifies thoughts or the voices of other people inside her head.

The recipes at the end are the ones mentioned throughout the book, each with an introduction which is part of the memoir. The braised chicken recipe mentions that she goes to her parents’ house for roast chicken as theirs is the best. She braises it because she can’t compete. You almost find out more about her and her relationship with her family from these introductions than you do from the text.

Although this is a memoir with food running through it, it feels more like a book about hunger. The innocent hunger of a child waiting to be fed but also the hunger of a woman for a man, a hunger to be settled, to be seen as a separate identity from your children. It’s not a comfortable read in parts but you get no sense of how these traumas have been dealt with and the effect they have had on her.

This is an amuse-bouche of a book.

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