Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

You can now hear our interview with Lucy right here...

What is Relish? Not the condiment eaten on a Chicago-styled hot dog (although that does sound delicious) but rather the latest book by Lucy Knisley. Is it an auto-bio graphic novel or an illustrated cook book? Is it a travelogue or a cooking memoir? In truth, it's all these things. Relish opens with an adorably drawn panel of Lucy as a baby, clothed in a diaper, seated on the family's kitchen counter grasping a wheel of cheese. It ends in a panel of equal adorableness with Lucy as an adult, eating carrots in her own kitchen with a smile etched on her face as she tells us to face life with "Relish".

In between these panels we get a tome chock full of anecdotes, short stories and, yes, recipes that have helped shape Lucy's life.

For any follower of hers it's always a treat when a new Lucy Knisley book hits the shelves. Whether it's the short and sweet comic strips of Radiator Days or the enticing recounting of her trip abroad in the similarly food-themed French Milk, her work never disappoints and consistently shows growth into not just an wonderful cartoonist but into an equally capable writer. Perhaps the growth can be attributed to the independent nature of her work. She is, after all, responsible for the creative content of Relish, from the words to the pictures and unlike some artists who illustrate their own writing, she has a wonderful eye for what to show and what to tell.

Each panel of Relish seems to have been toiled over with just the right amount of information given between
her beautifully constructed renderings and her simple, elegant words. Perhaps, most impressive of all is her ability to "teach" while telling a story without making it intrusive. So often books that could be considered educational are downright dull because the story being told is overrun by information. This is not the case with this book.Occasionally it does head off in unexpected and occasionally unwarranted directions but it always comes back around to what the book is really about. Which is food, by the way. Food in all it's glorious forms.

There's a chapter in Relish about a trip to Mexico which I found especially enjoyable, mostly due to my love of Mexican food. Another, which focuses on Lucy's form of rebellion against her cultured, foodie parents being junk food, was hilarious. At times stories will delve into or hint at deeper, more serious matters such as her parents divorce and the affects it had on her family. In these instances the book reaches yet another level of literature as it flirts with becoming a tell-all.

The honestly on display in Relish is refreshing, particularly because it doesn't always portray the writer/artist in the most flattering light. It's this willingness to be truthful and without shame that make the book so appealing and, again make it hard to simply peg as a "cook book" or even a simple "auto-bio". Like life itself the book is funny, and sad, heartwarming and, thanks to Lucy's slightly sarcastic tone, cool. It's a wonderful peek into the intricacies of a person's life not just "In the Kitchen" as the title implies, but outside of it as well. 

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