Reviewed by Sara Hodon
The Summer Kitchen
by Karen Weinreb
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover: 336 pages, July 7, 2009, ISBN-13: 978-0312379254
What happens when you face your biggest fear and lose everything precious to you—home, family, and the feeling of security—in an instant? This is the reality that former New York trophy wife Nora Banks faces in author Karen Weinreb’s debut novel, The Summer Kitchen.
The Banks family live a comfortable and privileged life in the New York City suburb of Bedford when their world comes crashing down. Nora’s husband, Evan, is arrested for committing a white-collar crime, though Weinreb never gets into full detail as to what he did, exactly. Nora, already feeling more than a little out of step with the other Stepford-like wives in town, is immediately viewed as an outcast. Luckily, she is too busy rebuilding her life to pay much attention to the town’s gossip. Her lifelong love of baking becomes her saving grace, as she relies on it as a form of therapy and to get the family through their crisis. She gets a job at a bakery in town and slowly reinvents herself with the help of her employer and the family’s devoted housekeeper, Beatriz, who has more than a few of her own secrets that she’d rather not share.
The book is based on Weinreb’s real-life experience. Her husband was arrested and served a prison sentence for similar crimes, and Weinreb turned to writing and her own love of baking to support her family while her husband was incarcerated. Nora, no doubt based on Weinreb herself, is the most developed character in the book, and the story is really about her. We learn some things about her husband’s life in prison, but Nora builds up her confidence and discovers that the material possessions she and her family used to value so much aren’t that important after all. She learns to appreciate simpler things. Though Weinreb does a good job of writing Nora as a real person that most women can relate to, the rest of her characters fall a bit short. It seems as though Weinreb is anxious to get Nora through her difficulties and to the other side—it’s as if she’s reassuring the reader, “Don’t worry, Nora pulls through this, just like you knew she would!” But in doing this, Weinreb leaves a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions about her other characters and some of the subplots. Of course, as this is a book loosely based on actual events, there’s no reason why every storyline needs to be wrapped up neatly at the end—after all, real life is never that tidy. But in any case, I found myself wondering what happened to Nora’s employer (and eventual business partner) Philip, and the secondary love story involving Beatriz. These characters seemed interesting and I wanted to know more about them.
The Summer Kitchen is an enjoyable beach read that can give readers some hope that you can get through the worst imaginable event of your life. Its message is all the more poignant because it is based on the author’s actual experience.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon is a part-time freelance writer who resides in Northeast Pennsylvania and is currently at work on her first novel. Reading and writing are her two favorite activities, and she is not shy about recommending a good read to others! Her work has appeared in History, Todayʼs Caregiver, SpecialLiving, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine. A proud graduate of Lebanon Valley College, Sara is currently pursuing her Masterʼs degree in English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.