After a tumultuous and fantastical childhood, Meg May craves logic. Reason, order and methodology have led her into the world of science — and the arms of a serious, straight-forward boyfriend. Now 21, she feels miles away from the world she once inhabited with her mother in the English countryside — but she’s being called back. Meg’s mother is dying.
Sweet, big-hearted cook Valerie May provided the love her daughter craved — but not the answers. Fed stories about their past that sounded more like fairy tales than memories, Meg is desperate for the truth about her biological father and her mother’s illness. She feels time running between her fingers, threatening to dissolve completely, before Valerie is truly too sick to be truthful — but even fact-finding, logic-loving Meg can’t predict how her mother’s tales will unravel.
Maria Goodin’s From the Kitchen of Half Truth is a haunting, often meandering story of one young woman’s quest to learn her roots — and it can be a little hard to define. On one hand, Goodin’s writing is reminiscent of Sarah Addison Allen: full of magical realism and incongruous details; lilting and lovely, like a cool evening breeze. In the next breath, we’re given Meg’s point of view — and shes’ so cold and odd and detached from life, and somehow clinging to this too-old-for-her drip of a boyfriend.
Though I felt her frustration with Valerie, I couldn’t help but be on Val’s “side.” Meg grows up with one loving, present parent, but she can’t help questioning her mother’s stories about a deceased pastry-chef father and other extended family. Valerie’s stories are truly outlandish, and often sound like the ramblings of a delusional madwoman. No one could hear her tales and think, even for a moment, that she’s sane. I mean, seriously.
And yet. Valerie’s denial regarding her advanced illness and impending death softened me to her, and I felt Meg’s desperation for answers deep in my gut. As the story progresses and Meg continues her quest for the truth, I was eager to fit the pieces together myself — and felt Goodin masterfully guided us through the Mays’ history. The transitions never felt wonky. Valerie’s anecdotes about Meg’s childhood were balanced with the present, even though Meg in the present isn’t someone I really wanted to befriend.
I guess that’s what kept this in “good” territory instead of “great”: Meg rubbed me the wrong way. I felt for her, but not with her. Even the emotionally-charged scenes toward the end didn’t move me the way they would have if, say, Meg hadn’t seemed like such a shell of a person. I felt the love interest introduced partway through was just a distraction, though I did appreciate some of Meg’s transition by the close. And, you know, I might have teared up during one pivotal, community-oriented scene.
First published under the title Nutmeg in the U.K., Goodin’s take on motherhood, truth and love was interesting. Fans of magical touches and family dramas with a touch of mystery might find From the Kitchen of Half Truth to be an intriguing story. Goodin’s creativity was awesome — even if the lead character didn’t win me over. I wouldn’t hesitate to read her work again.
3.5 out of 5!