On slow summer nights when humidity keeps me in the comfort of the air conditioning, I occasionally give in to a guilty television pleasure—The Next Food Network Star. The show, which seeks to find a new face for the Food Network's constantly updated programming, pits finalists against each other in cooking and on-camera challenges. In season three of the show, dynamic and cheery Amy Finley was crowned the winner. Her resulting show, The Gourmet Next Door, aired for six episodes before Finley chose to walk away from the network.
In her new memoir, How to Eat a Small Country: A Family's Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time, Finley shares what happened in the months following her failed stint on the Food Network. She reveals a splintering marriage, which she and her husband attempt to salvage by moving to France for half a year. Finley is clearly a food-minded person, and hopes that the land of unparalleled cheese and cheap wine will revive her relationship and her family's spirit.
The book follows the family in a highly-detailed account of their journey through France. They settle in the countryside, and from there make many trips to various corners of the country, eating everything in sight. Finley's account of her two small children is perhaps the most endearing aspect of the memoir. Their tastes, and sharp sense of humor, grow more sophisticated as the book progresses; and their desire for snails and lard provides some comic relief from an otherwise uncomfortable narrative.
The bulk of Finley's book is centered on re-telling countless arguments that she has waged with herself, her mother, and most of all, her husband. One can surely understand the frustration and pain of a mother of two who is struggling to keep her family together, while also shepherding the clan around an unfamiliar country. But pages of bickering, interspersed with some truly awful fights, are tiring to read. I found myself cringing at nearly every plot turn, and found it hard to empathize with Finley as it became clearer that she was as guilty as anyone of provoking arguments.
Neither is this book a good guide to the country of France. Finley is so wrapped up in detailing the daily scuffles that she wages with her husband that she barely makes room for recounting the succulent meals or hidden treasures that the family encounters. I also mistakenly thought I might learn more about Finley's growth as a professional cook and get some insight into her culinary aspirations, but this memoir provides no clues as to what Finley is up to these days. I can't say I enjoyed getting to the end of this book; perhaps I should have caught up on the most recent season of The Next Food Network Star instead.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly magazine.
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