I admit that I only bought this book because it’s written by a chef (so I’m expecting a lot of food references) and because the alliterative title was cute. Yes, yes, I judged the book by the title, and the cover. I mean, an upside-down chicken, what’s that about (there’s an interesting story behind that, apparently)? The book turned out to be very engaging. I really enjoyed reading it. I find the approach very honest and no-frills, and a unique blend of wistful and realistic. I also like that the language she used was simple and accessible. The result was a book that I found easy to connect with.
The book opens with chapters about her childhood memories, and I found it very endearing. She described the sights, sounds, tastes and experiences that shaped her early years. She described the people in her life, with a tinge of the sadness of retrospection. She described her mother and her kitchen, and how these memories from childhood endured and made her the kind of person she is today. The way that she described her childhood and the many wonders of it, actually made me emotionally invested in the story, which made it hard to read the parts where she described how the family broke down. There were parts in the book where I felt she was being hard on her family, but that’s what estrangement feels like. It almost always doesn’t spring up on you out of nowhere.
The way that she described her estrangement from her mother, for example, is honest to the point of being slightly painful to read. It’s not an emotional recounting of scarring events. It’s an honest description of what estrangement looks and feels like. There’s the judgment you need to endure from people who can’t understand how these things happen. There’s the stigma of estrangement that you carry around with you and tuck away from the new people in your life until you really can’t hide it anymore. There’s the passing of years and years of silence, and the surprise that comes with finding out that people can change. There’s the regret of not sticking around to witness that change happen, but the reality that you also just couldn’t possibly have survived it if you stuck around. There’s the struggle to verbalize what went wrong. All the little micro cracks that made the relationship brittle. Hamilton did a great job at tracing those faint cracks, like vague memories that have become hazy through time.
She laid down the story of her childhood in such a way that you feel that thread throughout the book, the need to belong, to love, and be loved by family. As well as all the events in her life that have been shaped by this deep, then-unfulfilled need.
She detailed the many colorful challenges she encountered early in life, and these memories are punctuated by sensory details of food and drink, of noise and scents. It’s a very descriptive book, sometimes it tends to run on in descriptions, but not in a way that makes you lose your thread of thought.
She manages to lay out her personal thoughts about being a “female chef” and all the baggage that comes with the “female” part of that description. The way she described her routines while working different jobs in the food industry shows how excellent her work ethic is and how tenacious she is. She has an iron stomach, capable of bouncing back from the daily demands, disappointments, and stresses of her chosen profession.
The book is more than just a series of events, though. It’s not just a narration, but carefully crafted retelling of stories that show pieces of a complicated puzzle that is her self. For better or worse, she bares herself in all her flawed glory. This is a very interesting memoir, an absolute pleasure to read from start to end.