By Amy Brozio-Andrews

Goodnight Nobody
Jennifer Weiner

In her fourth book, Goodnight Nobody, Jennifer Weiner's Kate Klein, frazzled mother of three, turns gumshoe on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings while her three children (one girl and twin boys, eleven months apart) are in nursery school.

Kate and her family are new to the affluent Connecticut suburb of Upchurch. Her husband works all the time. Her three kids are dynamos that wear her out every day. All of the other mommies on the playground look like they've stepped out of the pages of a fashion catalog, while Kate never leaves home wearing anything other than her cargo pants, and Upchurch simply can't compare to New York.

Feeling self-conscious about not quite fitting in with the other mommies at the playground, Kate's intrigued and excited when über-mom Kitty Cavanaugh leaves a telephone message inviting her over, mentioning that they have a mutual acquaintance. Kate can't imagine who she must be speaking of, and is stunned to find Kitty sprawled across the kitchen floor in a pool of blood when she shows up for their lunch date. Even more shocking is that their mutual acquaintance seems to be an old crush of Kate's. What could Evan McKenna have to do with Kitty's murder?

And so it happens that Kate Klein, mother, becomes Kate Klein, private eye. With her former reporter's nose for news and a strong desire to break free of the domestic rut she's in, Kate enlists the assistance of her best friend Janie Segal ("of the carpet Segals") and begins digging, finding that a whole lot more than just dust is getting swept under the rugs in the homes of Upchurch.

Jennifer Weiner recreates perfectly the insecurity that so many women feel when standing next to someone thinner, prettier, or simply more "put together." Readers will readily empathize with Kate, and her slightly cynical outlook that comes from juggling so much—mothering her active preschoolers, trying to be super-homemaker, weathering a very rocky marriage, still working out issues with her own mother, and continuing to adjust to being a stay-at-home mom far from her beloved Manhattan. When overwhelmed with advice on the do's and don'ts of the school bake sale, starting with "no nuts, no dairy," Kate wonders to herself, "How about crack? Would crack be okay?"

What's great about Goodnight Nobody is that it's more than fluff—without lecturing or being heavy-handed, Weiner explores a myriad of issues related to motherhood through Kate: what makes a "good" mother, losing your identity, working versus staying at home, "competing" with other mothers, and the persistent influence of a woman's own mother in her life, even after she's grown and had children of her own.

The resolution to the mystery is a bit wild, but Weiner plants enough hidden clues that it's not impossible either. The true resolution of the book, Kate's search for balance between raising her children and maintaining her sense of self is what makes Goodnight Nobody really worthwhile.


Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen
Julie Powell

Julie Powell was at a crossroads in her life. An aspiring actress, she hated working temp job after temp job. Her gynecologist told her that the time to try and start a family was pretty much now or never. Her marriage was having its ups and downs. And she and her husband were just about to move to a small apartment in Long Island City, Queens, with an even smaller kitchen.

Craving simplicity in the face of all the complicatedness around her, Powell found unexpected solace in an old copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which she lifted from her mother's pantry the last time she visited home. Having come home from work after an especially bad day with potatoes, leeks, and butter, and realizing that these were the ingredients for Julia Child's Potage Parmentier (potato soup), the seeds of the Julie/Julia Project were planted.

That night, Julie Powell decided she was going to cook every dish in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, of which Julia Child is one of the authors, over the course of one year.

Between kidneys and brains, artichokes and lobsters, and pounds and pounds of butter, Powell takes the reader on a wild ride, full of highs and lows of both the personal and culinary sort, as she tackles 524 recipes in 365 days. Each chapter begins or ends with the vague re-creation of Julia Child and her husband Paul at different points in their lives; those imagined scenes are just enough to pique the reader's interest in knowing more about Julia Child, this world-famous chef who found her calling when she was more than 35 years old, but truly, the fact that Powell resorted to fictional accounts is a little disappointing. From the author's note in the very beginning of the book, it's clear that Powell knows something about her, noting that these selections have been inspired by actual letters, journals, and the biography Appetite for Life by Noël Riley Fitch—and that could have been passed on to the reader as facts, instead of fabricated scenes from Child's life.

Powell's enthusiasm and determination to follow through on such a large and time-consuming undertaking are impressive and inspiring. Having decided to do this, Powell's husband ups the ante by suggesting she start a blog in which to record her journey. With the Julie/Julia Project blog, Powell finds a supportive audience; while at times she feels beholden to her blog readers (or "bleaders" as Powell affectionately refers to them), their support and encouragement persuade her many times not to give up.

Against the backdrop of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Powell's Julie & Julia is a memoir unlike any other. Meandering a bit as she tells of her personal journey of discovery, facilitated by Julia Child and her emphasis on simplicity, Powell's food writing is what really stands out. She's descriptive when writing about the process of cooking, without being tedious. She doesn't gloss over the hard parts or unpleasantness, which when she writes about dishes made with brains, kidneys, and liver, can be a little too vivid if you're the squeamish type.

You can't help but admire Julie Powell for achieving her goal of making every dish in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, many of which I don't think neither I nor many of her readers will probably ever attempt, and for sharing it all in such an unvarnished way.


© Melt Magazine 2005