Too much sugar, not enough spice
The book “Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times”, by Suzan Colón, is a collection of charming, if not inspiring, stories. Though Colón’s retelling of the family anecdotes is edged with wit, her novel is too sweetly sentimental to be taken seriously.
After Colón is laid off from her job as a magazine editor, she somehow manages to handle the loss of her six figure salary with grace. This, however, is not reflected in her cooking, as the first recipe, “Suzan’s Rigatoni Disoccupati (Pasta of the Unemployed),” goes to show. Though Colón’s complete lack of effort in preparing the first recipe in the novel illustrates her disappointment in having lost her job, her reaction to this devastating situation is underwhelming. Colón is presented with many chances to better connect to her readers on an emotional level, but instead relies on simple sentimentality, a tactic that quickly spoils her message by making it cliché.
Though “Cherries in Winter” is disappointing in that respect, Colón deserves brownie points for doing one thing that I found genuinely heartwarming. By relaying her grandmother’s story, she manages to do for her grandmother what her grandmother always wanted to do for herself: publish her memoir. Though Colón’s own story is interesting in its wackiness (she sees an acupuncturist to boost her fertility), it is too ridiculous to allow the reader to make a connection to their own life. If there was one thing that Colón could have done better, it would have been to focus on her grandmother’s story, a story with a character that readers could actually relate to.
Story aside, the novel includes several recipes (aside from Rigatoni Disoccupati) that are worth testing out. Of course, most of the credit goes to Colón’s grandmother once again, as the majority of the recipes were collected by her and only dug up from the attic by Colón, but who is keeping score? No matter who devised them, the inclusion of recipes for Butter Cookies and Lemon Meringue Pie scores “Cherries in Winter” a few more brownie points.
The Lemon Meringue Pie in particular, inspired a few laughs when Colón discovered too late that the recipe lacked one key ingredient: cream of tartar for the meringue. Her witty comments and explanation for the missing ingredient were entertaining, though her reaction to her failure at pie making was, like many of her other reactions, underwhelming and uninspiring.
Perhaps the most underwhelming of all of Colón’s reactions was her reaction to her inability to have children. While she is once again forced into a situation that is emotionally difficult, Colón fails to translate any emotional turbulence that she feels into her writing. This leaves the reader feeling shut out and in want of a deeper connection.
Overall, “Cherries in Winter” is enticing for its fascinating look into the lives of some of Suzan Colón’s relatives (and the delectable recipes collected by them), but uninspiring with its lack of emotional connectedness. Though the sweetness of Colón’s butter cookies may be just right, her novel is overloaded with artificial sweeteners in the form of sentimentality.
Andrea Aguirre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.