Review by: Sandra Alagona

5/01/02

Feeding Christine
By Barbara Chepaitis

In Feeding Christine, Barbara Chepaitis offers an often humorous, heartwarming tale of four women united by family, food, and cooking, living through the trials of life and not always having an easy time of it. Set in upstate New York, we enter the Christmas season world of Teresa, Delia, Amberlin, and Christine. While preparing for their business’s annual holiday open house, the women must find a way to reach Christine and feed her soul as her mother’s ghost haunts her sanity and is called into question by Christine’s psychiatrist fiancée, James. As the women struggle to help Christine, each of them must battle her own insecurities about romantic relationships, family secrets, and personal ghosts.

Very personally, this story reminds me of my own cooking and baking adventures as a college student in seemingly always wintry Rochester, New York. In doing so, Chepaitis takes archetypal feminine metaphors of food and domesticity, and proves how very empowering they are to women and women’s relationships. The novel centers around Teresa’s ability to speak through her Italian cuisine, much as Tita does in Like Water for Chocolate and Mama Joe does in Soul Food. Her understanding of the world around her is naturally translated by the metaphoric and subtle intricacies of culinary compliments and textures. The women in her family and her life best understand the ebb between tension and ease that this creates for characters, however.

Though the premise for this novel may seem simple enough (storytelling through women’s cooking), anyone familiar with Like Water for Chocolate and Soul Food will know simplicity is not "simple." The simplicities and complexities of cooking are a wonderful metaphor for the simplicities and complexities of life. And, if a novel is infused with just the right amount of humor and drama, as Feeding Christine is, the result is deliciously satisfying. Indeed, one would expect a novel dealing seriously with depression, sanity, and suicide to be haunting, and this is certainly the case here; Christine’s mother, Nan, is as much a character in this novel as any of the other women, and yet she is dead. But what is also striking about Chepaitis’s work is the amount of humor, if not outright hilarity, which drives the story forward as well. From Christine’s initial fight with Teresa over Nan’s gun, to Christine’s fastening to Teresa’s sink, to Amberlin’s inner bitch throwing canned tomatoes and vegetables, Chepaitis’s characters exude a vitality and reality as they try, as we all do, to figure out how to and why we handle pain and joy in life.

Further, although the prose at times waxes a little too metaphoric, Barbara Chepaitis draws you into a world at once fictional and strange, but all the while familiar and comforting. So, if you are in the mood for heartwarming fiction during the holidays or on any rainy day, Feeding Christine is a piece that will remind you of all those women in your life you love to love and fight with, and without whom you would not feel quite complete.

ISBN: 0-553-38112-1


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