Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney

A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by Publerati in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.

May I just say that I love Thanksgiving? It’s my absolute favorite holiday–the food, the family, the food…. So the premise (um, and the title. And frankly, the cover art) of Ellen Cooney’s Thanksgiving appealed to me, completely: “the story of one family through many generations, as Thanksgiving dinner is prepared.”

In execution, the premise is a little less on-point. The book is, clearly, about one family, and in fact, one house. At first, it almost seems to take on that disjointed short-story quality that I so dislike, but it soon becomes apparent that the stories are blending seamlessly into one another, their characters carrying over from one generation to the next, and helping to create continuity. That quality was lovely. It was not, however, at all apparent that the stories were about Thanksgiving. There was food, in abundance: each chapter is named after a traditional turkey-day course, and in all honesty, reading the thing made me hungry ALL the time. The book is filled with details about women cooking, spending time together in the kitchen, sharing stories while they prepare food, or thinking about their relationships while they bake or eat. Frankly, I related to that. I love to cook and bake, and I spend a lot of quality time, both with my family and alone, while I’m in the kitchen.

The writing, itself, is thoughtful, delicate, and fluid:

(Background–Hester is to inherit the family home. She loves it, but is at odds with the idea. The family is eating off the heirloom plates, upon which are painted a replica of the family home.)

“As she’s thinking this, she’s starting in on her plate. She goes for the dressing first. She picks out the chestnuts, sliding them to the side, because she believes in saving the best part of anything for last. Then she picks up her knife to slice her one piece of turkey. She doesn’t realize she’s eating it, until she’s eating it, and bits of the front door revealed, then more of it, then more–that old wood door, with its heavy, rough timber, standing there waiting to be opened.

There were a few places where the story seemed to be just the slightest bit bogged down, but overall, it moved well. There were also a lot of women getting pregnant outside wedlock; the ones conceived inside marriage seemed to be abnormal, which, given my genealogical research, seems strange. The content was a tad hit-or-miss with me, in general; if it had been as strong as the quality of the writing, itself, it would have been a homerun novel. Regardless, it’s not bad, and I’d be interested to see what else Cooney can do.

Clean, language-wise. Several mentions of sex, but nothing that’s really TMI. Three stars.

3 Stars

About Ellen Cooney

I grew up in a small New England river-town founded and based on mills and factories, and I’m the type of writer who never actually became one, but started writing very young, as naturally as anything. I never distinguished books or letters of the alphabet from basic requirements, like food and sleep. I was a child poet and playwright, and the only writer I knew, so I had a lot of freedom imagining what my grown-up writing life would be like. When I turned sixty last year–a novelist with eight books and a ninth in the works, with many stories published, and a long career in teaching creative workshops–I found myself looking back and laughing loudly and tenderly at my baby-writer self for thinking,“I’m lucky because what I do is so easy!”
So what I actually became is a writer who gets it that it’s very, very hard work, plus this:if it looks on the page it was hard-worked,it was struggled with,it was sweated over,it was always in danger of falling apart…well,that would mean I’d done something wrong. And this:if I knew as a little girl I’d grow up to write a novel in which quite a few troubled, highly expressive dogs are main characters,I would have laughed my head off at how improbable that seemed, for I didn’t have dogs of my own,or even know any closely,until I was grown and in my own writer’s life.

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