Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge
Published September 2005 by Penguin Books
Eleanor Samuels, a writer for food magazines, has an food issues, a possible weight issue (at least her mother thinks she's overweight), and a narcissistic mother. Then Eleanor's beloved "Uncle" Bennie, becomes ill and Eleanor's life is tossed upside down when she becomes his caregiver. Soon Eleanor is uncovering long-buried family secrets, dealing with fallout from her sisters' problems, and beginning a flirtation with a new chef in town.
I read this book as part of the Manic Mommies Book Club and you can find a great discussion of the book at: http://www.manicmommiesbookclub.blogspot.com/.
I really enjoyed this book which is full of memorable, although not necessarily lovable, characters. Eleanor's mother, Bebe, has had her share of tough breaks but she is so self-centered that she cannot be an effective mother. As you begin reading the book, you imagine Eleanor as quite a heavy person until you come to understand that she is not really that large, it's just the self-image that Bebe has saddled Eleanor with. Anne, Eleanor's older sister is dealing with a crisis in her professional life. Christine, Eleanor's younger sister, is married to a man who is almost as self-centered as Bebe, is a bit of an earth child and she's just discovered she's pregnant. Uncle Benny isn't really the girls' uncle at all but a long-time friend of their mother's who suddenly became a big part of their lives when they were little girls. His relationship with Bebe has clearly been closer than merely friends. Eleanor's father was a very cold and distant man. He certainly had reason to be that way with his wife but he was an uncaring father as well.
Shortridge does a an excellent job of weaving together the episodes from the past with the current story and of weaving together a lot of different story lines. I liked that Shortridge didn't wrap things all up neatly. You were left with the feeling that life would continue on for these characters without really knowing how. My only problem at all with the book was Eleanor's relationship with Henry, the chef. That part was a bit chick-litish and wasn't necessary for the story except to help Eleanor feel better about herself.
I enjoyed this book a lot. It is a quick read despite dealing with some very heavy subjects. Eleanor is an incredibly real character with whom most women will be able to relate.