The Bread and the Knife: A Life in 26 Bites Hardcover by Dawn Drzal (2018), 257 pp. Arcade. $19.99
I read the book “The Bread and the Knife” not knowing what I would be getting. I think I had assumed it would be several essays on food, the kind of book I have read several times in the past and had enjoyed. While this book is essentially that, it’s also very much “not” an anthology of essays on food. Dawn Drzal has crafted an interesting collection in that so much of it is unlike the previous chapter that it’s more like an anthology by different writers. This is not to say that Drzal does not have an identifiable style of writing, but that the content of each of the chapters is vastly different in tone and content as to be a hodgepodge rather than some symmetrical whole.
The collection of stories was written with each of the titles having a letter in the alphabet (A is for, etc.) so that each of the titles was systematically listed alphabetically. Some of the collection is very short (Liquid Pimento Olive, not listed alphabetically) and others are longer, although all are for the most part short essays.
There were stories that made me laugh out loud (G is for Gruel) as well as stories that made me feel uncomfortable, (P is for Passion Fruit), some simply were lovely, secretly shared intimacy full of vivid impressions of sense. You get to know Drzal family, the nameless husbands who become ex-husbands, the friends, the classmates, the authors (some hilariously impossible) and her grandparents, who are fleshed out in silhouettes that seem very familiar.
Drzal Is a gifted writer who can very well convey the story with an uncanny ability to share the experience completely. Many of the stories deal with issues such as solitude, life, and death, kindled to failed romance and a sense of the various compartments of our lives as we age. We share portions of Drzal’s life as she goes from young adult, early twenties, young wife, mother, and then a single mother. We have a front row seat to the play that is Drzal’s life, and while sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is also unbearable and wonderous.
The Good: Of the stories in the work, the favorites of mine had been “K is for Kielbasa” that has the one recipe in the work that I believe I will try. “M is for Melon” a wonderful story of the fickle nature of youth vs. older sensibilities, and my absolute favorite “O is for Omul” which is a story so vivid it could be a painting.
The Bad: Never in any of the chapters is the work boring and I would say that the entirety of the work is moreish. (I would like to read more of the authors work now that I’ve exhausted this book.) So, there were no bad bits.
Rating: Four out of Five Loaves
Drzal has written essays for magazines such as Food & Wine, O, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. You can find out more about this author at her below website.