As much as it is about food, cooking and the life of a chef, Blood, Bones & Butter is ultimately about the search for family, that most basic support system author Gabrielle Hamilton lost when her parents divorced and her siblings dispersed. She first finds a sense of family among the assorted wild, crazy, earthy and inspirational individuals met in the kitchen: the chef who helped her get through grad school in Michigan; the owner of a creperie in Breton where she landed for a time while traveling Europe; and the mostly female staff she assembles at her New York City restaurant, Prune.
The last of the book’s three sections (“Butter”) focuses largely on her hasty marriage to a charming Italian doctor and introduction to his extended family on annual visits to Puglia. Hamilton captures her initial infatuation with the very old-school matriarch and the charmingly rundown villa they own by the seaside, but also how her eyes are gradually opened to the cobwebs and tangled realities of that life, as she finds herself increasingly frustrated in a mismatched marriage.
Perhaps Hamilton is still too close to that segment of her life, but she seems to lose her voice as a writer even as she loses her way among the foreign family she has so hoped to embrace. As an editor, my sense is that the first two sections (“Blood” and “Bones”) were written over the course of several years and had benefit of both hindsight and careful self-editing. I wanted to take a knife to the last segment’s repetitive language, themes and nearly word-for-word repeat references to her husband’s indifference.
In the end, though, Hamilton brings her memoir full circle with a long-planned feast for her Italian family that mirrors the elaborate theme parties her father once produced, and with which she opens the book. Her big adopted Italian family may not have turned out the way she expected, and Hamilton doesn’t entirely share the state of her marriage at book’s end. But the very last line gives us a pretty perfect idea of where things are headed.