Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton: Book Review

Hamilton tells her difficult coming of age story without flinching. Her unusual childhood in agrarian New Jersey with an artist father and French ballerina mother was disrupted by divorce as she hit puberty. Walking along the railroad tracks at the age of 13, looking for a job, she goes into the first restaurant she finds- and the die is cast. “Be careful what you get good at, because you will be doing it the rest of your life.” a kitchen coworker warns her.

Hamilton structures her story well, moving forward and backward in time to illuminate the mistakes/choices she made and why she made them. After ten years in catering kitchens in New York, she cannot put to rest the idea that she should be doing something more “worthy” and heads off to Ann Arbor for an MFA in writing. (This is not a memoir that pretends to be written by a non-writer.) The alienating academic language and culture drive her back to the kitchen and a woman she meets working there gives her a first glimpse of the possibilities of her own restaurant. A restaurant that gives patrons a taste of childhood comfort and being cared for by the mother that she has not seen for twenty years. On her return to New York she makes such a restaurant.

As I wrote about on the desk set, my attraction to books and libraries was given to me by my parents, and in many ways at work I try to give that comfort and feeling of being recognized to my young patrons and their parents. I have frequently felt that I should be doing more or other than that.  Blood, Bones, and Butter is a rare memoir of vivid convincing detail and compelling story that resonated with my experience of working life.

Prune, Hamilton’s restaurant, is what they call a labor of love which means she works ridiculous hours. By the end of the book she also has two tiny sons to care for as well as an unfathomable husband. She is searching for balance but unwilling to compromise on career or family or writing a beautiful honest book at the same time. For this reader, attempting to balance all these often unspoken and complex internal drives- for family, success, and art- Hamilton’s tale is as bitterly refreshing as a perfect negroni.

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Author: Emily

Writer/ Librarian

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