POET OF THE APPETITES: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher

Joan Reardon, Author . North Point $27.50 (528p) ISBN 978-0-86547-562-5

Writer M.F.K. Fisher, born in 1908 to an upper-middle-class American family, dabbled in various schools and made her society debut before marrying and heading to France to set up housekeeping. That she eventually abandoned her husband for her friend's husband, began writing about the art of eating and went on to become a distinctive literary and gastronomic stylist has created her image as a sensualist, but culinary historian Reardon finds that Fisher was actually "self-absorbed," and "at times a destructive woman." As if to demystify Fisher's sensualist image, Reardon details her life in workmanlike, almost sterile prose. Who stopped by for tea and who picked up the newspapers is followed by a sentence recording the suicide of Fisher's brother or a lover's death. On rare occasions when Reardon's opinion surfaces, it's usually negative: she disapproves of Fisher's child-rearing skills, of Fisher's affair with an older woman, of Fisher's open-door availability in the years before she died in 1992. Scholars may find this volume useful, but devotees of Fisher's writing will find that one big question still remains: how did a woman with such straightlaced roots become one of the world's most delightfully irreverent bon vivantes? Photos. (Oct.)

Forecast: An excerpt in the September issue of Gourmet should boost sales among culinary-minded readers.

Reviewed on: 09/06/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 509 pages - 978-0-86547-621-9
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