Thursday, July 27, 2006

A delayed review

I have been trying for a couple weeks to write a review of Mostly True, the new memoir by former New York Times food writer Molly O'Neill. The publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy, which was the first book I read after Ess was born. And the review has been sitting in my drafts folder for weeks now; I'll add a sentence here or rewrite a phrase there, but without more than a few minutes at a time to work on it, the piece just isn't getting finished.

Given that I'm returning to work next week, and my already scarce blogging time will grow even scarcer, I'm giving up on the polished, well-thought-out review I'd hoped to write. Here, instead, are a few sentences on why I enjoyed this book, and why you might, too:

Molly O'Neill comes from a wacky family; she's the oldest of six, the other five of whom are boys. And the youngest of whom is retired Yankees star Paul O'Neill. Their parents were eccentric, to say the least -- one of the book's most enduring images for me is Molly's three baths a day as a toddler, complete with a different party dress after each bath. And all this for a kid who just wanted to play in the dirt.

O'Neill's life thus far has happened to coincide with the great explosion in American food -- from the gloppy casseroles she made with Campbell's soup for her brothers to the rarefied cuisine she sampled as the NYT restaurant reviewer. And, of course, her career passes through the brown rice and nuts phase of feminist vegetarianism.

The book is warm and witty and, as O'Neill wrote in a recent piece for Real Simple magazine, exhaustively researched -- a good thing for a memoir in the age of James Frey. Unlike Ruth Reichl's books, which I loved, Mostly True is as much about family as it is about food; therein lies its strengths and its weaknesses. I would've loved a bit more about food and culture, and a bit less about the boys, who become somewhat indistinct as they turn into adults.

That's a minor quibble, though. Mostly True is an engaging look at what its subtitle bills as family, food and baseball. And what better subjects to consider on a summer day?