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Italian cuisine that she learned to cook at the right hand of her grandmother . But downstairs is the Tsil Café, Wes's father's kitchen, where Wes cuts his teeth (and burns his hands). From the time Wes is four years old, he helps his father in the downstairs kitchen, limited strictly to the foods of the New World—anchovies , buffalo, habanero, jalapeño. Wes' childhood is in many ways typical. He gets beaten up on the playground , is dumped at age fourteen by a girl he likes, feels different from everyone else in high school. But Wes really is different. How do you explain toother eight-year-oldswhy youbring tamales for lunch? What do you do whenyourfatherservesbuffalo tongue to your first date, a girl raised on peanut butter and jelly? If you are Wes Hingler, you survive. You leam to cook. And you take a little bit of everything from all the people who've taught you and become your own person. AveriU's achievement in this work is that he makes this comingof -age story different enough to be interesting and familiar enough to be meaningful. Amid the culinary terminology , the recipes and the footnotes explaining thehistories ofnative foods, is a story about true-to-life characters . Wes' father and mother struggle in their marriage and in their relationships with their own parents. The care with which Averül develops these problems, and the characters' reactions, is what makes the novel so intimate. When Wes' parents fight, and his mother drives home to St. Louis, a sick Wes must ride in the back seat while his father drives and tells the story of how they met. Wes, the typical adolescent, ignores him and the story that he's heard a hundred times before, angry mat his own life is constantly interrupted by his parents ' troubles. On the drive back to Kansas City, Wes pretends not to care, but he can't help asking his mother if she still loves his father. And when he switches cars when they stop for gas, he can't help asking the same question of his father. He can't help being a part of the family. Even AveriU's secondary characters are depicted with depth and intensity. The reader gets to know PabUto, the bartender ofthe Tsil Café, and his wife, Teresita, and witnesses the joy with which they anticipate their first child. There's Juan, the admirable servant whohelpedraiseWes'fatherandtaught him to appreciate and respect Nature, the mother of all food and Great-grandmother Tito, who raised Wes' mother with compassion and cooking. The novel's weakness is its many complications; family secret after family secret is exposed, and after a while they stop being shocking and become too predictable. Fortunately, Averill is skilled enough to keep the characters from becoming one-dimensional. Although the family's troubles eventually defy believability, the characters are never anything but flawed, dynamic and very human. It goes without saying that a book about food must include plenty of mouth-watering descriptions. Averill definitely succeeds on that count. Any writer who can make buffalo tongue sound (almost) appealing deserves admiration. Don't read Secrets on an empty stomach. (KB) Haussmann, or the Distinction by Paul LaFarge Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001, 380 pp., $24 198 · The Missouri Review Paul LaFarge builds and destroys Paris in Haussmann, or the Distinction. Ahistoricalfable—orfabuloushistory— Haussmann treads fantastical waters. At its outset, Madeleine, a mere infant (but soon-to-be LoUta), is cast into the waters of the Bièvre, where she is unavoidably "saved by pollution," for the river is already so full of debris that nothing more can sink. LaFarge is a Yale graduate and scholar of automatic writing, whose first novel, The Artist of the Missing, won a 1999 California Book Award. His imagination is given to fancy in the grandest sense, and his prose straddles the line between the elegantly antiquated (he readily admits in the novel's fictional prologue that the language inHaussmann is "already archaic, and willfully so") and the cleanly contemporary . But where LaFarge's language feels a touch too refined in the noir and surrealistic The Artist of the Missing, it perfectly...


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pp. 198-200
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