Mary Jekyll has never been more alone. Her father, Dr. Henry Jekyll, died 14 years ago, and her mother Ernestine has just passed away after going mad. Living in London in the 1890s, she’s subject to the era’s discrimination against women, which she confronts while trying to get her family’s affairs in order. She soon realizes she’s destitute — but her mother has left her clues to a bank account that lead to a girl named Diana Hyde.
Mary remembers Diana’s father from her childhood; Edward Hyde, crude and misshapen, was a friend of Dr. Jekyll’s. As a mystery coalesces around them — one that transcends their curious overlapping pasts — three other women enter their orbit, each of them the daughter, literal or figurative, of a scientist belonging to a secret society: Catherine Moreau, Beatrice Rappaccini, and Justine Frankenstein.
The premise Theodora Goss lays out in her novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter isn’t shockingly original. But before you assume it’s some sort of, well, Frankenstein’s creature comprising pieces of Monster High and Penny Dreadful, be assured that Goss has executed something much deeper. True, she’s unabashedly drawing from the work of Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mary Shelley. Rather than executing a shallow mash-up, though, she’s assembled a deceptively intricate mosaic of friendship, family, history, science, and the way literature — not to mention truth — can be manipulated.
I’m also looking forward to Michael Twitty’s to-be-published-on-August-first, book, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. I’ve followed Mr. Twitty’s career ever since he wrote a breakthrough post in response to Paula Deen’s shameful racism. The Green Man took me last year to see Mr. Twitty cook at Monticello, just beside the vegetable garden. I love Mr. Twitty’s almost-Pagan willingness to listen to and interact with his ancestors.
Here’s the description of his first book:
Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.
From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.
As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep–the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.
Regular readers know how important my landbase is to my spiritual practice and, as a white woman living in the South who learned to cook from her Southern mother, food is an important part of my identity and my spiritual practice. Is there a recipe or foodstuff that’s the touchstone of your identity? Give me a good ham biscuit and I’ll die happy. Well, a good ham biscuit and a good book.
Picture found here.