Recipes for a Perfect Marriage

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty

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This novel is about a food writer who marries a solid, dependable guy who doesn’t really give her butterflies in the stomach. As Tressa weathers a crisis doubting her decision to marry, she reads her Irish grandmother’s journals and recipes. Every other chapter tells the story of her grandparents’ marriage, one Tressa thought was perfect, but which was really an arranged marriage, surprisingly happy despite hidden strife. Every few chapters there is a ‘theme’ and a recipe that both women cook.

The book is a bit preachy and sentimental. I agree with the lesson it’s trying to teach: that love is a choice and an action, not just a feeling, and that we can develop and grow feelings for someone by acting toward them in a loving, kind way. That’s what people mean when they say that marriage is hard work. It seems unromantic to think of it that way, but it’s really not. It’s not as revelatory an idea as Prunty seems to think; I encountered it years ago on A Practical Wedding. The novel’s treatment of this teaching was pretty didactic and heavy-handed. Of course Tressa and her grandmother learn a lesson, but it could have been conveyed more subtly, unless Prunty wants to switch genres from fiction to self-help. The prose was sometimes exaggerated in a way that was supposed to be funny but that I mostly found banal.

The “food writer” has got to be one of the top 5 most clichéd careers for a woman in a romance novel or romantic comedy movie. It’s feminine, creative, and glamorous, the kind of job that people dream of thanks to the Food Channel, and therefore incredibly unrealistic, like Sara Jessica Parker buying Manolos as a freelance sex columnist in New York. I get annoyed by “foodies” and food snobs, as characters and in real life, and Tressa is definitely one. I understand the idea of food bringing people together, though, and the recipes seemed to be central to Prunty’s conception of the novel. They’re certainly a novelty that might have appealed to some readers, just not me.

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