22 April, 2013

Review: Relish by Lucy Knisley

Every book I read this month earned my undying dislike except Relish. I didn't love Relish, but it cleared the bar and for that I salute it. Other people in my life raved about Relish so probably it is way better than I think. I loved the cover. Crisp, clean, graphic, it sets the tone perfectly for these light vignettes from the author's childhood. There are some hyperbolic pull quotes from Big Industry Types hanging out on a clean prairie-esque design. This cover is how you sell me a book.

The interior is as lovely as the exterior. Knisley uses space well. Her art is clean and thoughtful, inviting the reader to linger and appreciate instead of rushing off to the next panel. As an illustrator, she's top notch. I felt the same way looking at one of her pages that I felt reading Herge as a child. (Knisley inspires hyperbolic pull quotes from sporadic bloggers as well.) It's a lovely book.

Content is where I started to fight my Relish love. I appreciated so much (So! Much!) the opportunity to read a coming of age graphic novel that didn't harbor dark secrets or sudden trauma. Knisley beautiful captures the mood of her youth both in the visual representation and her recollection of how things feel when you are at the mercy of people older than you. Each section is themed around a food memory, with an appropriate recipe or cooking tip ending the section. This never feels gimmicky or forced. (It is also unlikely I will ever prepare one. They are more visual than hunger inspiring.) Focused on herself or her mother Knisley tells a strong story. She idolizes her mother. She sees herself in her mother. The changes in their lives that bewildered her at the time added value in the end. When talking about these choices Knisley is on solid ground.

What weakened Relish for me was the inclusion of her father. As a reader, he felt unconnected and out of place to the narrative. Apparently Knisley's parents are Somebody in the food world. Being unfamiliar with them I didn't have the added thrill that might come with peeking behind an idol's curtain. Knisley's depiction of her father reads like an author pulling her punches. I gained little understanding of him as a person or of Knisley's role as his daughter. Relish might have been the stronger for leaving him to another volume. (I also vehemently disagreed with the author's defense of tube dough crescent rolls in a chapter about European croissants, but that's a rant for another day.)

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