Location, Location, Location: The Hundred-Year House, by Rebecca Makkai

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     “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  Robert Frost’s poem resonates throughout the backward tale of Rebecca Makkai’s novel, The Hundred-Year House.  The tale opens in 1999 at Laurelfield, estate and former arts colony owned by the imminent Devohr family when Zee, a Devohr, and her husband move into the carriage house.  Mysteries abound.  What is that hole in the carriage house kitchen wall?  What’s in the attic of the main house?  Why do the eyes of the portrait in the dining room follow you?  Is the house itself trying to bring lovers together or force them apart?

    More secrets, mysteries and some answers are revealed as Makkai leads the reader from the most recent past through the decades to the past.  The second section of The Hundred-Year House backpedals to1955, the third in the 1920s and ultimately, to the conception and construction of the location in 1900.

     The Hundred-Year House, Makkai’s second novel, was on my list of best reads of 2014.  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/2014-in-review/  It’s one of those novels that sort of defies an explanation.  The house is a character, much like Hogwarts is a character, that appears to precipitate action, even pulling lovers together.  It’s at times spooky, funny, contemplative, romantic.

     At the beginning of the novel, the inhabitants are stocking up for Y2K, semi-convinced that a basement full of canned goods and an old Chevy will allow them to reach the 21st Century unscathed.  At the turn of the 20th Century at the end of the novel, Augustus Devohr finds the land upon which he will build Laurelfield and decides that this is something “he’s always been meant to see. . . . ‘What is the opposite of memory?’ he wonders, “‘what is the inverse of an echo?'”  By reversing time in the narrative, The Hundred-Year House creates mysteries which can be solved by knowledge of the past.  Throughout, she muses on art, artists, identity, fate and love.

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     Although Makkai’s prose consistently sings, my favorite passages are those about love.

What was all this, but a modern tower of Babel?  Here was someone speaking nothing but dance, and someone else speaking nothing but paint, and someone speaking poetry, and someone speaking music.  And what were they trying to express, but the inexpressible?  If there existed words, regular words, to say what they were aiming at, then why would they ever need to do what they did?  Why were they all living here, knocking so ineffectively at the doors of the palace?  The ink was as insufficient as anything else, but perhaps it was a start.  If he’d been a sculptor, he’d have sculpted it for them: Look! There!  Love.

   Rebecca Makkai visited my hometown for the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference last fall and gave one of the best talks during the weekend on how to write a great novel ending.  I really enjoyed her talk, and I really enjoyed her book.  I think your book club would as well.

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   Thanks to The David Blagh for some ideas.  http://leitesculinaria.com/10348/writings-dining-through-the-decades-american-food-history.html,

   Since The Hundred-Year House visits from distinct time periods, I would create a menu from those four decades, moving from 1999 to 1900 as the novel does.

1999 — Appetizer

Cosmopolitans (thank you Carrie Bradshaw)

Low-Carb was the diet of the year in Time Magazine, so I’d serve chicken tikka skewers with peanut sauce

1955

I have a lovely old cookbook published in 1959 by the Louisville Courier-Journal entitled Cissy Gregg’s Cookbook, Volume 2.  My grandmother swears by two things:  the Bible and Cissy Gregg.  Most of the salads featured in this cookbook involve mayonnaise and/or gelatin but this recipe for Overnight Fruit Salad does not, and I believe I remember having it.

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Overnight Fruit Salad

1 cup seedless grapes, halved

1 cup cherries, pitted (CIssy notes she uses white cherries)

6 marshmallows, cut in eighths (of course, now we have mini-marshmallows — I’ll use those)

1/8 pound cashews, chopped

1 cup diced pineapple

1 egg

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons half and half

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Combine fruits, marshmallows and nuts.  Beat egg until light and foamy.  Add sugar gradually.  Blend in half and half and lemon juice.  Place egg mixture in a saucepan and cook over low heat or over hot water (in a double boiler) until the sauce is smooth and thickened, stirring constantly.  Cool.  Fold in whipped cream.  Pour over combined fruits and nuts and mix lightly.  Chill overnight in the refrigerator.

1920s

Martinis

Fingerfood.  The 20s were the birth of the cocktail party so I’d go to Trader Joe’s and snap up some goodies.

1900s

Brownie’s.  Here’s my grandmother’s recipe.

1/3 cup Crisco

1 cup sugar

2 well-beaten eggs

2 1 oz squares of chocolate melted

3/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup broken nut meats

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and Crisco.  Add egg, beat well.  Add chocolate and blend.  Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.  Pour into paper lied 8 inch pans.  Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Cut into bars.

MUSIC

1999, Prince and the Revolution

Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley & the Comets (from 1955)

Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin, 1920s

Swanne River, Stephen Foster (1900)

Here’s a few more top songs from 1900, since that’s pretty obscure.  http://tsort.info/music/yr1900.htm

Happy Reading & Eating!

“Excuse My Dust.” Farewell, Dorothy Parker, by Ellen Meister

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   If only we could all write like Dorothy Parker.  Alas, we cannot, and some days that’s more obvious than others.  In fact, Mrs. Parker advised most of us not to even try:  “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

   Ellen Meister has done her level best to put Mrs. Parker on full and glorious display in “Farewell, Dorothy Parker,” a fantasy novel in which the great author rematerializes to advise, criticize and revitalize the life of Violet Epps, a movie critic and Dorothy Parker devotee.  Miss Epps visits the Algonquin Hotel and amidst inspecting the hotel’s autograph book of famous persons, encounters the ghost of Dorothy Parker who would rather hang around the Round Table than cross on over into the light.  Miss Epps absconds with the book and with Mrs. Parker, who takes up residence at Violet’s house, drinks all of his liquor, seduces the man (via inhabiting Violet’s body) that Violet has the hots for and very nearly ruins Violet’s attempt to obtain custody of her niece.

I’d like to have a martini,

Two at the very most.

After three I’m under the table,

After four I’m under the host.

   One intimates that Mrs. Parker herself would enjoy this scenario.  “I don’t care what is written about me, as long as it isn’t true.”  And certainly one hopes this isn’t; I hope Mrs. Parker is enjoying the light and the gin and the men and has long been.

Dorothy Parker

    Farewell, Dorothy Parker is a fun and quick read.  Meister imbues a level of peril with the fun by introducing Miss Epps’ custody battle and struggle with her survivor’s guilt after her sister is killed in an automobile accident.  Perhaps most importantly, and one wonders if this was her intention, Meister leaves one wanting more of Dorothy Parker herself.

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  She definitely had a way with words.

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 The Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, is now a Marriott property.  The famous Round Table room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, including (one can only wonder what poisonous bon mots Mrs. Parker would pen regarding this) gluten-free and vegan options.  If you are interested in co-opting the current Algonquin Room menu, here is a link to find it:  http://www.algonquinhotel.com/sites/default/files/dinner_jan_2014.pdf

  And if you want to play a food-related game, LA Weekly has a post where you must guess whether a quotation is one of Dorothy Parker’s reviews or one of a current food critic.  Very fun!  http://www.laweekly.com/squidink/2012/04/24/food-review-or-dorothy-parker

  The Vicious Circle, of which Mrs. Parker was a part, ate lunch at the Algonquin Room daily during the 1920s.

  It’s rather difficult to find reference to any actual food Mrs. Parker may have enjoyed.  But I would try to replicate a 1920s style luncheon . . . with martinis.

Chilled Tomato Consomme

Caeser Salad

Shrimp Cocktail

Finger Sandwiches, 1920s style

   Sardolive:  Mix equal parts of sardines, chopped olives and hard-boiled egg yolks and season highly with lemon juice, salt and paprika

   Tiger Eyes:  Cut rounds of white bread with a cutter. Butter the bottom round and spread with seasoned cream cheese. Cut a small circle from center of top round. Place on bottom round and in the center hole fit half a suffed olive, cut crosswise

  Honolulu:  3/4 cup chopped pulled figs, 1 cup crushed pineapple, 1/3 cup sugar, Juice of one lemon, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. Cook figs and pineapple until smooth, add sugar and lemon juice and cook until thick. Remove from fire, add walnuts and cool. Spread on thin rounds of whole-wheat bread

Martinis (!!!)

Here’s a recipe for Tomato Consomme from the Food Network:

4 pounds fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 beet root, peeled and sliced
Fresh chives, for garnish
Special equipment: Butcher’s twine, 3 to 4 large pieces cheesecloth (about 2 by 2 feet)
Directions

Put the tomatoes, green onions, lemon juice, basil, garlic and salt and pepper, to taste, into a food processor and run until blended and slushy. Put 4 layers of clean cheesecloth in a deep bowl. Pour the tomato mixture into the cheesecloth. Tie up the corners of the fabric. Add the slices of peeled beet root to the bowl to color the liquid. Hang the bag from a shelf in the refrigerator with the bowl underneath for a couple hours (or longer). Discard the beetroot. Ladle the consomme into chilled clear or white bowls and garnish each with a single piece of chive.

This recipe was provided by professional chefs and has been scaled down from a bulk recipe provided by a restaurant. The Food Network Kitchens chefs have not tested this recipe, in the proportions indicated, and therefore, we cannot make any representation as to the results.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/chilled-tomato-consomme-recipe.print.html?oc=linkback

MUSIC

   Jazz.  Am I always recommending Jazz?  Perhaps I have a tendency to read books that require a jazz background.  But for this book, I would put together a soundtrack of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sophie Tucker.  Nothing too upbeat either.  She attempted suicide four times.  She never succeeded.  Mrs. Parker died of a heart attack in 1967 leaving her entire estate to the Martin Luther King foundation.

farewell