Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore

I always hesitate to say that I loved a book or movie but I think I loved this book.  Just back in print after 50-some years, Chocolates for Breakfast is a sexier version of The Bell Jar and Pamela Moore parallels Sylvia Plath in that she is also a young woman in a rough marriage tortured by depressive bouts and eventual suicide.  Pamela Moore touches on many of the same coming-of-age themes of other young adult favorites like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  In Plathian fashion, Moore killed herself at the age of twenty-six, eight years after Chocolates for Breakfast was first published in 1956.

The risque novel begins with fifteen-year-old Courtney Farrell holding an argument with her boarding school roommate Janet Parker, whose hobbies include lounging in the nude and getting kicked out of schools.  Janet is arguing that Courtney is too involved with one of the female English teachers who tutors the bright and bored Courtney in the evenings.  Janet tells her that the other girls are starting to think Courtney has a crush on Miss Rosen.  Courtney denies it but does seem to find her relationship with Miss Rosen very important, so much that she goes into a depression when Miss Rosen says Courtney is no longer allowed to visit her.  Courtney leaves Scaisbrooke for her actress mother's trendy apartment in Hollywood and then on to New York City where Courtney departs from her childhood quickly.

Reading the book feels as luxurious as the title sounds.  Cocktail parties, dates with older men, and sleeping in til early afternoon fill the novel.  Courtney's life as daughter of an actress mother and a rich father means decadence to the point of surrealism.  What struck me about Chocolates was Moore's voice.  She was seventeen when she wrote it, eighteen when it was published, so Moore was writing in the moment.  She wasn't looking back and remembering how she felt in her transition from child to woman; she was in that change.  She still wasn't sure how everything would end up for her, but she imagines for Courtney a hopeful and happy ending.  Some scenes could be criticized as cheesy and highly romanticized, but I had to smile in appreciation of the too-perfect scenes because that is exactly what a seventeen-year-old girl would write.

There are obviously a great many differences between Chocolates and Bell Jar.  Moore's novel is not told in the first person, and although we are offered a lot of clues about what Courtney and occasionally other characters are thinking, it is certainly not the "I just stepped into the mind of a crazy girl" experience that Plath gives a reader.  Whereas Plath is very raw in her descriptions of depression and suicidal thoughts, Moore romanticizes such things right alongside love affairs, champagne for breakfast, and fancy dinners.  With Esther in The Bell Jar the reader feels as though she knows what led Esther to want death.  With the characters in Chocolates for Breakfast, we are only looking in on their oversexed, scotch-drenched teenage lives and can only guess what they are truly feeling.

For reasons unexplained to myself, I loved this book.  Maybe it's because the review where I learned of it billed Chocolates as a lost classic, and I was eager to be a first to appreciate it in its rediscovery.  Maybe I just love the sound of chocolate.  Or maybe I have a fascination with coming-of-age stories. Whatever the reason, if you loved The Bell Jar you will love Moore too.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Happy Hour: Irish Maiden

I love St. Patrick's Day for so many reasons.  You can't beat the Kansas City St. Patrick's Day parade and I could live on cabbage.  I used to obsess over Irish step dancing when I was younger.  Clovers are adorable.  Oh, and Irish drinks are certainly fun, too. ;)

In anticipation of St. Patrick's Day, I decided I needed to master a new whiskey drink and came across the Irish Maiden.  I don't think I could have invented a drink that is more perfectly me.  Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice is my favorite mixer.  It is so refreshing and goes well with gin, tequila, vodka, and apparently whiskey, too.

Ginger, honey, and grapefruit juice make this drink a rather classy option for your St. Pat's celebration.  For people on the fence about whiskey, one Irish Maiden will make you a believer.  The parts about whiskey that I imagine people wouldn't like are toned down by the honey and grapefruit juice.  Don't worry, whiskey lovers like Jarrod!  While tart due to the grapefruit, the drink is adjustably sweet, so whiskey's wonderful taste is not overpowered.

I used a small piece of fresh ginger and club soda in place of the ginger ale that the original recipe calls for, so the only sweetness is coming from the natural honey.  The first time I made the original recipe's honey syrup and infused the fresh ginger in that, but that is much too fussy.  Simply shaking up the honey with the whiskey and juice will dissolve it beautifully and that hint of spicy ginger infuses in the drink with a few shakes also.

The Irish Maiden
adapted from Foodie Misadventure
makes two

4 shots whiskey
4 teaspoons local honey
juice of half a grapefruit
small piece of fresh ginger
splash of club soda

Put the first four ingredients in a shaker and um, shake.  Strain over ice in two glasses.  Fill the rest of the glasses with club soda.  Stir and sip.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 7, 2014

4 Reads for St. Patrick's Day

Spring break is around the corner.  Some colleges are starting their midterm breaks next week already!  What are you doing for spring break?  Traveling?  Going to a deliciously sunny beach?  Hanging out at home?  Whatever you're doing, you'll probably be stuck in a car, a plane, a bus, a train, or on a couch for some of the time.  So you're most likely going to need an entertaining book to keep you company.  Why not kill two birds with one book and read something festively Irish for St. Patrick's Day?  Sounds good to me!

In college I focused my studies on two areas of lit: feminism and Irish literature.  Irish lit is some of my favorite because it is usually beautifully sad and makes your heart hurt, but in a very compassionate and satisfying way that leaves you feeling more connected to humanity.  Ireland has gone through quite a lot of pain, and her children like to share their stories of hunger, political unrest, identity crises, and displaced loved ones through written word.  Most of the Irish lit I studied was contemporary, so I didn't focus a whole lot on long Joycean novels or Yeats poetry.  The books on this list are four of my absolute favorite works by Irish authors.  They also happen to be quite quick and readable, prefect for a spring break and your poor tired brains.  Even if you don't get a spring break because you now belong to "the real world", these are great for March reading.  Enjoy!

1. Dubliners by James Joyce
I know I said I didn't read long novels by Joyce in college, and that statement could have misled you to believe that JJ wouldn't be on this list, but he is.  Of course he is.  Dubliners is a lot different than his other works because it is a collection of short stories and because instead of using crazy modernist techniques, Dubliners is a realist's perspective of the citizens of Dublin in the 1910s when the collection was written.  This will definitely put you in an Ireland state of mind.  And if you only read one of the stories, read the last one "The Dead".

2. The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
Ten-year-old Lucy Gault lives in a big old house with her mother and father on the Irish seaside in the 1920s.  When Lucy decides to run away in order to convince her family to stay in the house and not move to England to escape the Irish war, and her shoes are found on the beach, her parents make quick assumptions and rash decisions that affect the Gaults for the rest of their lives.  Be warned that this short novel is chest-achingly sad but beautifully explores themes of loss, forgiveness of self and others, patience, hope, and love.  All the important parts of life.  Lucy's story has haunted me since I first read it.

3. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde may not have liked to admit it, but he was indeed an Irish author despite the fact that he left Ireland as soon as possible and identified as a British author and playwright.  The Importance of Being Earnest is one of my very favorite plays.  A man named John who leads somewhat of a double life as Ernest falls in love with a woman who claims to only be capable of loving an Ernest.  John's friend with the real and awesome name of Algernon decides to do a little pretending himself or "Bunburying" as he calls it, and everything gets humorously complicated as Ernest tries to win the affection of his mother-in-law to-be while keeping his double lives straight.  It is so witty and entertaining, a perfect short read for the break.  Or if you don't feel like reading it, simply watch the hilarious film version with Colin Firth as Ernest.

4. On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
This is another terrificly sad story that follows one Irish woman's life from the time she immigrates to the United States as a very young woman to very old age.  Fate deals Lily a tough, tough hand, but it makes her a wonderfully strong individual and an intriguing character.  Having escaped the Anglo-Irish war by moving to Chicago with her boyfriend, Lily spends her whole life a wanderer looking for her place in America.  As in many of Barry's works, he focuses on the effects of the Irish diaspora on the individual and the immigrant's struggle to find a home and an identity away from Ireland.

Hope you enjoy these as much as I did!  Have a very Irish spring break!