Sunday, May 9, 2010

TSS: Guest post by Michael Baron, author of The Journey Home

I welcome Michael Baron, author of The Journey Home on my blog. Here he tells us about how he came about writing the novel. I liked his book. You can read my review here.

My latest novel, The Journey Home, is a number of things. It is a love story (two, actually). It is the story of people searching for home. It is a story about connection and reconnection. One of the things that it is decidedly about is food. I’ve been wanting to write a novel with a strong food theme for a while now. Gerry, my main character in my first novel, When You Went Away, did some cooking and rhapsodized about donuts at one point. There was much less food in my second novel, Crossing the Bridge, though the main character’s making dinner for the object of his desire was a key moment. With The Journey Home, though, I wanted food to play a central role.

To me, this made complete sense. In my mind, the words “food” and “home” are virtually interchangeable. If I were really going to focus on what home means, I was going to need to include a great deal of food. The way this plays out in the novel is that Warren, early forties and one of the three viewpoint characters, is watching his mother Antoinette (another viewpoint character) recede in an assisted living home, as dementia envelops her. Antoinette was a great home cook and Warren always loved her cooking, though he’d never enjoyed time in the kitchen (other than eating) himself. Now that his mother is disappearing before his eyes, he decides to try to recreate some of her greatest dishes in her room in an effort to rally her and bring her back.

I was determined not to use the food in this novel as a prop. If I were going to say that Antoinette was a talented and imaginative cook, then I couldn’t simply have her make a really good chicken pot pie or a top-notch meatloaf. She had to make original dishes that required both a sense of skill and adventure. That meant that I needed to come up with original dishes. On top of this, the cooking that defined home for Warren would be the cooking Antoinette did when he lived at home. Since the novel is set now, that meant that Warren had gone off to college in the late eighties, before the American food revolution that changed the way so many people cook and source ingredients. Compiling these dishes was a bit like writing a period piece; I needed to avoid anachronism. In this case, it meant I needed to forget quite a bit of what I know about food.

Just to make this a little harder for myself, I decided that I wanted the food to tell part of the story for me. I wanted the dishes to say things about both Warren and Antoinette, as well as Antoinette’s now-departed husband, Don. I decided to give Antoinette a tendency to name dishes in honor of people she loved. This allowed me to use food as a method of characterization and leads to a key moment in the novel when Warren makes a dish invented for him (and an even bigger moment in the novel that I won’t reveal here).

This leads to the presentation of dishes like Chicken Margaret (chicken sauteed with lemons, olives, plum tomatoes, and vodka named after Antoinette’s sometimes-sour, always substantial sister) and Ralphie’s You-Must-Be-Kidding Pork (an outsized invention for their pig-obsessed neighbor composed of a pork loin wrapped in bacon, stuffed with kielbasa, ham, and sweet Italian sausage and served with a sauce flecked with prosciutto).

It was fascinating for me to discover how much I could express through talk of food and the preparation of food. Maybe someday I’ll do an entire novel in recipes. Now that would be a challenge.


Thanks Michael, for this post. I look forward to your novel in recipes!


bermudaonion said...

A book with food sounds good to me!

Serena said...

I love books with food and look forward to reading this book soon!