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Book Review: “Crave: A Memoir of Food and Longing”

Crave: A Memoir of Food and Longing

Christine S. O’Brien

Hardcover, 272 pages

Publication Date: November 13, 2018

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Memoir/Nonfiction

“Crave” came highly recommended to me through one of my favorite podcasts, and every other book I picked up because of it ended up being really good. “Crave” had an intriguing presence, and I wish it turned out as well as I was hoping it would.

“Crave” stars Christine in her childhood and her family: mother, father and three brothers. Christine and her family grew up in New York City in the 1970s, where her father worked as a television producer. Her mother, after experiencing an unexplainable collapse, begins to religiously believe that food and nutrition are the keys to health and begins The Program, an impossibly strict lifestyle diet consisting mainly of blended salads and vegetable drinks. Convinced this is the way humans were always meant to eat and survive, she forces Christine and her brothers to follow The Program as well.

According to the podcast and the book’s own description, the main plot centers around Christine’s family in the face of her mother’s strange food beliefs. Unfortunately, the events described above do not occur until nearly 100 pages in. The first several chapters are simply a recounting of Christine’s early childhood and stories about her parents.

Additionally, the book’s timeline extends far beyond Christine’s struggles following The Program. “Crave” follows Christine through college, marriage and parenthood, all the way until both of her parents have died in the early 2000s.

If I had known what all the book included, I doubt I would have read it. The titular themes of “food” and “longing” are not featured strongly in the first third of the book. The overarching conflict of this book is Christine’s fraught relationship with her mother, but even that was frustrating for me to read. There are other memoirs about complicated mother-daughter relationships, which I would recommend instead of this in a heartbeat.

A final note: in addition to the plot, the writing style was difficult for me to enjoy. It got better as the book progressed, but in the first few chapters, nearly every sentence was cluttered with unnecessary descriptions. It felt like O’Brien was trying to cram as much information into each sentence as she could.

Take this example, a single sentence from Chapter 2:

“We go out the front doors and pad with our mouse and duck and dog feet onto the cold white, with diamonds of black, marble of the lobby, which is dimly lit and empty and smells like our apartment, though the oily aroma of wood polish, of dust and wood, hangs thicker here.”

This single sentence is 53 words long. While I could understand this was, perhaps, a stylistic choice, I found it detracted from the story. I was constantly lost in seas of commas, trying to find the end of a sentence.

Paige Holmes is a junior journalism major from Topeka, KS. Reading is her favorite thing to do because it teaches one how to think, imagine and live. Paige believes there is no better way to learn something or be entertained than by reading a book. Her favorite genre of books is fantasy/thriller and her favorite book is ‘Opening Moves’ by Steven James.

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