Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton – Book Review


Blood, Bones, and Butter is an honest memoir written by a woman with a turbulent, exhilarating, at time overwhelming, and at times intensely fulfilling life. In part, it is a memoir of a daughter who adored her mother, looked up to her father and holds deeply moving memories of her childhood. Memoir of a daughter who suddenly finds her family of 5 siblings and parents held in high esteem, splintered, as she is left to pick up the pieces and at times, survive on her own. A memoir of a daughter who cannot quite pinpoint the reason of her deep discontent with her mother, but one who will nevertheless not talk with her mother for over 20 years. In part, it is a story of a lost teenage girl, who dabbles in drugs, gets caught stealing, seems unsure of her sexual orientation, briefly has a lesbian relationship with a woman she lives with, and just as swiftly marries a man, but continues to live separately, despite giving birth to two sons, and never fully commits to the relationship or has the chemistry required in as fully committed relationship. This is a story of someone who cannot find purpose in life, who after dabbling in waitressing and support cook roles, realizes that it does not fully tap her potential. Hamilton goes back to school to get a graduate degree in literature, but realizes that despite her brilliant mind and her quick grasp of the literature, in academia, she neither found her passion, nor an avenue for honest self-expression. Hamilton could not tolerate intellectual snobbism and lack of integrity existing among her academic, polite, and “politically correct” academic cohorts, and she “starved for opinionated opinion”.

It is a story of a deeply committed “foodie”, who seems to find her passion and calling in food, the preparation of food, in food as a source of nurturing and sustaining of life, food as it relates to specific hunger, food that satisfies specific need in a specific way, at a specific time. Hamilton not only loves to cook, but appreciates “the difference between a root and rhizome”, and one day holds the key to her own restaurant, “Prune” in Manhattan, New York. No, it did not happen that easily. She cleaned up dog poop, steaming cockroaches, slogged in extreme heat under 10 burners, and went into labor with unresolved crisis of her top chef leaving the job for better prospects elsewhere. But in this challenging life, she found her calling and her passion, and her self-identity and self-expression. This is a story of a woman who starved for family and adored her 87 year old mother-in-law, Alda. As her own family grew with two wonderful children, her chemistry with her own husband reached new lows, and simultaneously she also folded herself into her Italian husband’s family. This is a story of someone who realizes that in the end it is about “clan and bloodline” and “no amount of birthing sons, and cooking dinners and raking the leaves or planting the gardens or paying for the plane tickets” to visit her adopted family, is going to change that small truth. It is a story of a person sharing deep insights, who in the end, learns to let go. Hamilton seems to let go of discontent with her mother, let go of her discontent with her husband, accept the deep love and connection she has with her husband’s mother Alda and his family, as she also learns to go of the “pressing need to be declared as a member of the family”. She is happy to be a “well-cared for and very welcomed guest” of the family. This is a moving and honest memoir of someone who fought against fate, struggled with her identity, yearned for family love, and followed her passion with ruthlessness and with abundant love. It is a story of someone who seems to also make peace with life in the end and yet shares about the struggles and challenges with depth and integrity.

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