From the Kitchen of Half Truth

From the Kitchen of Half Truth

by Maria Goodin

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Overview

"An impressive and heartfelt debut that will appeal to many readers, this charming and sensitive mother/daughter story captures the struggle between protection and isolation."—Library Journal

Meg May's mother has created a life out of stories. Outlandish stories that can't possibly be true. And when sickness threatens to hide the truth of her past forever, Meg must convince her imaginative and free-spirited mother tell her what is real.
As charming as the stories she's been told are, they aren't enough for Meg anymore. As she and her mother spend one last summer together, Meg tries to convince her mother to reveal a thing about who they used to be—and who they are now.

Full of quirky humor and depth of feeling, From the Kitchen of Half Truth is a delicious debut contemporary novel. Fans of Chocolat (Joanne Harris), The School of Essential Ingredients (Erica Bauermeister), and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender) will be charmed by this unobtrusive look at mother daughter relationships and the powerful exploration of the stories we tell ourselves to create the lives we want.

Full of quirky humor and depth of feeling, From the Kitchen of Half Truth is a delicious debut contemporary novel.

What reviewers are saying about The Kitchen of Half Truth

"[A] touching debut novel about the relationship between a mother and daughter" —Publishers Weekly

"There are some novels that grip you with a story so unique, yet so heart wrenching that you can't stop reading. From the Kitchen of Half Truth was just such a novel."—Laura's Reviews

"Held me captivated from first to last word ... You'll find just a little piece of yourself in all the wonderful characters."—Long and Short Reviews

" Funny, tender, quirky, and heartfelt, From the Kitchen of Half Truth is for anyone who has daydreamed about the future or been shocked to find something unexpected in the past."—Booklist

"A gorgeous tale of love, loss and making sense of the past ... filled with energy and life."—RT Book Reviews

"A story about understanding and compassion and how people often distort the truth to protect themselves and others, Goodin's narrative contains moments of eloquence, wit and sensitivity."—Kirkus

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402279485
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/02/2013
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 762,036
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

I came out a little underdone. Five more minutes and I would have been as big as the other children, my mother said. She blamed my pale complexion on her cravings for white bread (too much flour) and asked the doctor if I would have risen better had she done more exercise (too little air). The doctor wasn't sure about this, but he was very concerned about the size of my feet. He suggested that next time my mother was pregnant she should try standing on her head or spinning in circles (spinning in circles on her head would be ideal), as this would aid the mixing process and result in a better-proportioned baby.

My father was a French pastry chef with nimble fingers and a gentle touch. On my mother's sixteenth birthday he led her to a cherry orchard and fed her warm custard tart under a moonlit sky. She knew it would never last, that his passion for shortcrust would always be greater than his passion for her, but she was intoxicated by his honey skin and cinnamon kisses. When they made love, the Earth shook, and ripe cherries fell to the orchard floor. My father gathered the fallen cherries in a blanket and promised my mother that upon his return to Paris he would create a cherry pastry and name it after her, but he never had the chance. Four days after his return to France he was killed in a tragic pastry-mixing accident. The only part of him still visible above the dough was his right hand, in which he clutched a single plump, red cherry. Finding herself alone with a bun in the oven and no instructions, my mother set the timer on top of her parents' fridge to nine months and waited patiently for it to ping.

Throughout her pregnancy, my mother suffered all manner of complications. She was overcome by hot flashes several times a day, which the midwife blamed on a faulty thermostat, and she experienced such bad gas that a man from the local gas board had to come and give her a ten-point safety check. Her fingers swelled up like sausages so that every time she walked down the street, the local dogs would chase her, snapping at her hands. She consumed a copious amount of eggs, not because she craved them, but because she was convinced the glaze would give me a nice golden glow. Instead, when the midwife slapped me on the back, I clucked like a chicken.

***

I want you to understand that these are all my mother's words, not mine. I myself am mentally stable and under no illusion that any of this ever actually happened. I have no idea what did happen during the first five years of my life, because for some reason I can't recall a thing. Not a birthday party, not a Christmas, not a trip to the seaside...not a thing. I don't remember my first bedroom, the toys I played with, the games I liked. Perhaps people don't remember much from those first five years, but I'm convinced I should remember something. Anything. Instead, all I have to go on are my mother's memories, which, in fact, are not memories at all but ridiculous fantasies that reflect her obsession with food and cooking and deny me any insight into my early years.

Am I annoyed with her? Of course I am! I want to know how I started out in this world, who my father was, what I was like as a baby, normal things like that. But however much I ask, I always get the same old stories: the spaghetti plant that sprouted in our window box on my first birthday, the Christmas turkey that sprang to life and released itself from the oven when I was two, the horseradish sauce that neighed unexpectedly...I mean, what is all this rubbish? I'm twenty-one years old, and yet my crazy mother still insists on telling me idiotic stories like I'm a baby. She's told these stories so many times that she actually believes them. The story of her pregnancy is ridiculous enough, but you should hear the story of my birth.

***

It was the gasman's fault I came out underdone. He'd come to deliver my mother's ten-point safety certificate in person after taking a bit of a shine to her, and my mother had felt obliged to offer him a slice of her freshly baked date-and-almond cake. They were having tea in my grandparents' kitchen when, all of a sudden, the gasman started choking. My grandfather, a member of the St. John's ambulance service, jumped up and grabbed the gasman around the waist and, with a sharp squeeze, freed the offending morsel of cake, which flew across the room, knocking the timer off the fridge. At the sound of the ping, I thought my time was up and started to push my way into the world.

Between them, my grandparents and the gasman carried my mother upstairs and laid her on my grandparents' bed.

"The baby can't come out yet!" my mother kept shouting. "It won't be properly done!"

But done or not, I was coming out, and so efforts began to make the labor as short and painless as possible.

"Go and get some butter, Brenda!" shouted my grandfather to my grandmother, mopping his brow with his handkerchief. "If she eats a pack of butter, the baby should slide out."

But a pack of butter did no good other than to turn my mother's skin yellow, so my grandmother suggested garlic.

"The baby won't like it if you eat garlic. He'll want to come out for air."

Consuming an entire bulb of garlic didn't force me out either, so my mother shouted, "Get some of that cake up here! We'll lure the baby out with the delicious smell."

And so half a freshly baked date-and-almond cake was held between my mother's thighs, and, lo and behold, I started to move.

"It's coming fast!" screamed my mother.

"Quickly, Brenda, get something to catch it in!" cried my grandfather.

In the end, it was the gasman who caught me in a heavy-based frying pan. By the time the midwife arrived, it was all over, although she insisted on poking me gently with a fork and plonking me onto the kitchen scales. She sniffed me and confirmed I was under-ripe, but as soon as she put me on the windowsill, my mother took me down again.

"She's my baby, and she'll ripen when she wants!" snapped my mother. Holding me close to her chest, she kissed the top of my head and proclaimed I tasted like nutmeg.

And so that's what I was called.

Meg.

***

I'm traveling home for the weekend, if you can call it home. When my grandfather died three years ago, my mother moved into the little cottage in Cambridgeshire where she grew up, the one where I was supposedly born, although I don't even know if that's true. The cottage suits her perfectly. Although it's not big, it has a long, narrow garden where my mother can indulge her love of growing fruits and vegetables. She grows potatoes and cabbages, spinach, peas, radishes, tomatoes, lettuce...and then there's all the fruit. Apart from having a small apple orchard at the far side of the garden, she also grows strawberries, plums, gooseberries, raspberries...the list is really quite endless. She spends her time gathering and cooking all these ingredients, boiling things up in big metal saucepans, frying, stewing, roasting, baking, simmering, steaming. She makes stews, pies, tarts, casseroles, cakes, soups, sauces, sorbets-you name it, she makes it. I have absolutely no idea what she does with all this food, and whenever I ask her, she's very elusive. It's my suspicion that a lot of it must get thrown away. The real enjoyment is in the cooking process itself, and what happens to the food after that is seemingly inconsequential to her. She's a flamboyant, reckless cook, throwing things around, chucking bits here and there, and leaving destruction in her wake. By the end of the day, the kitchen looks like a bomb's exploded, but I'm used to it.

My mother raised me among culinary chaos in a small North London flat. Because the ventilation was poor and my mother was constantly cooking, we survived in a haze of steam, which once got so dense that my mother lost me for forty-eight hours. She finally tracked me down in the living room with the aid of a special fog lamp. Apparently.

Because we had no TV or radio, the soundtrack to my childhood was compiled of saucepan lids banging, knives chopping, mixers whirring, and liquids bubbling. I went to school with clothes that smelled of spice and a lunchbox packed with elaborate sandwiches and homemade delicacies. The other kids thought we must be posh, but, in fact, we survived on a meager income. My mother was never too proud to take the squishy fruit or bruised vegetables that were left at the end of market day. Nothing made her happier than baking.

Nothing other than me, that is.

***

"Twelve minutes late," sighs Mark, staring up at the departures board. "Forty-six pounds for a train ticket, and the bloody thing's twelve minutes late. It's ridiculous. Do you realize you're spending approximately twenty-one pence for each minute you will sit on that train? That means that, in theory, they owe you two pounds and fifty-two pence for the twelve minutes you've wasted sitting on this platform. Oh, thirteen minutes now. So that makes it-"

"Mark," I interrupt, taking his hand, "you really don't have to wait with me."

He puts his arms around me and pulls me close to his chest. "I want to wait with you, babe," he says, smiling, showing off his beautifully straight, white teeth.

I take in the sharp angle of his cheekbones, the perfect line of his nose, the subtle arch of his brows. He is wonderfully symmetrical. Classically handsome. Like a child fascinated by an attractive object, I can't stop myself from reaching out and tracing the contours of his clean-shaven jawline with my fingers. His clear blue eyes sparkle with intelligence and betray a wealth of knowledge. He is always questioning, learning, rationalizing, and this thirst for knowledge, along with his heightened sense of practicality, makes me weak at the knees. When I first listened to him speak about condensed-matter physics, I knew I was in love; here was a man who, above all else, craved the same thing I did: hard, cold facts.

Mark brushes a piece of hair away from my face. "I've never noticed that little scar on your forehead before," he says, rubbing at it as if it's an imperfection he might erase.

"That's where I was bitten by a crab cake," I say casually.

"You mean a crab."

"No, a crab cake. When I was tiny, my mother made a batch of crab cakes, but she left a pincer in one of them by mistake. She told me not to touch them, but when she left the kitchen, I took one off the plate and was about to eat it when a pincer shot out and nipped me on the face. She couldn't pry it off. In the end, she got a match and held the flame underneath, and it eventually let go. The crab claw scuttled off under the fridge, and for weeks we were too scared to look under there in case it leaped out and..."

My voice tapers off as I feel Mark's arms slide from around my waist and he takes a step back. My accidental slip into this world of lunacy has embarrassed him. Again. He offers me an awkward smile, and I feel foolish, like I always do when these stories tumble out of my mouth. What he doesn't understand is they're like memories for me, so ingrained in my psyche that I sometimes forget none of it ever happened.

"Don't let your mother fill your head with too much nonsense this time," says Mark, a pleading look in his eyes. Last time I came back from my mother's, I told him how I'd apparently crawled into the freezer when I was barely a year old and had to be soaked in hot water for two hours to thaw out. I had told him with a faint smile on my lips, finding some amusement in the ridiculous image of myself-a frosty, blue baby, slowly warming through and becoming pink again as I sat in a pan full of steaming water-but Mark hadn't seen the funny side at all.

"You would have died," he had pointed out. "Or at least have suffered from frostbite. You would certainly be missing a few of your extremities."

"You're absolutely right," I had said, pulling myself together and wiping the smile from my face. "It never could have happened."

"Of course it couldn't have happened. I just don't get how you can laugh it off, though. Doesn't it annoy you, Meg? She's turned your childhood into a farce. I mean, why do you allow her to go on telling you such silly tales?"

"Because they're all I've got," I had said rather too defensively. "I'd rather have fictional memories than no memories at all. Besides, it's always been this way. I'm used to it. And anyway, it's all harmless rubbish really, isn't it?"

"Is it?"

And of course I wasn't sure. This fantastical world that had been part of my life-part of me-for so long had started to seem less entrancing, less colorful, less absorbing as I grew older. I felt confused and cheated by the stories that had once held me captivated and enthralled. Where I had once been carried away on a magic carpet into a fantastical past that I couldn't recall, I now felt irritated and patronized. A story, after all, is just another word for a lie.

"I won't let her fill my head with anything," I promise Mark, trying to redeem myself from claiming I was assaulted by a crab cake. It's still fairly early days in our relationship-only seven months in-and I desperately want to make a good impression, but every time I talk about my childhood he must think I'm insane. Or at least that I have an insane mother, which still isn't a particularly appealing quality in a girl.

"Here's your train," he says, drawing me toward him. "Have a great weekend and make sure you think of me every second that you're away."

"I will."

"I'll see you Sunday evening."

When we kiss, I breathe in the sweet scent of his expensive aftershave. He is so perfect. And he's mine!

I pick up my bag and board the train.

"And Meg," he calls after me, "I hope your mum's doing okay."

I smile appreciatively and wonder if he's talking about her wayward mind or her dying body.

***

It hasn't always been like this. I haven't always been ashamed of my fantastical past. When I was a little girl, I would boast to my friends about how I once ate so many apples that I started spitting seeds, or how my mother's meringues were so light that we once floated to the kitchen ceiling together after just one bite. At first the other children used to envy my extraordinary childhood and listen to my stories in awe, hanging on my every word. Their memories were so boring in comparison. Tracey Pratt's funniest memory was the day she got stuck in the loo, and Jenny Bell remembered falling off a donkey, but none of their memories ever compared to mine. And they were memories at that time, or at least I thought they were. I had heard the stories so many times that they had become part of me, part of my past. I could actually feel myself floating against the kitchen ceiling, half a meringue still clutched in my tiny fist, looking down on the cramped kitchen. I remembered seeing the baking tray steaming in the yellow washing-up bowl and the discarded ball of parchment paper lying on the worktop, little crumbs of meringue stuck to it. I recalled sitting in my highchair and spitting those apple pips across the kitchen, hearing them ping against the steamy window as my mother stirred something in a saucepan on the stove. As sure as the sun had risen that morning, these things had happened to me.

It wasn't until I was about eight that I first felt something was wrong. On our first day back after the summer holidays, Mrs. Partridge, in an attempt to get to know the class, had asked us to write a paragraph titled "My Earliest Memory." I knew how much everyone loved hearing about my life, so when it was my turn to share my work with the rest of Red Class, I stood up, puffed my chest out, held my head up high, and read my paragraph with pride.

In my earliest memory, I am very little, and I am sitting on the kitchen floor at home, and my mum is about to start chopping runner beans when they all leap up and run away. My mum says she knew she shouldn't have bought runner beans, and then she starts chasing them, and they are running in circles round me, and I am laughing. It was very funny.

I looked up from my book and smiled at Mrs. Partridge, waiting for her to praise my work, but she didn't look pleased at all. In fact she looked positively annoyed. To make matters worse, the other children in the class were starting to laugh. Not their usual, gleeful giggles of entertainment, but scornful snickers. Something seemed to have changed over the summer; my friends seemed to have grown up, and for the first time ever, I experienced the humiliation of knowing my peers were not laughing with me, but at me.

"Meg," said Mrs. Partridge sternly, "that's a very funny story, but it's not a memory, is it? All the other children have written something that actually happened to them."

I looked around me at my classmates' faces, each of them contorted into sneers and smirks. I heard Johnny Miller call me "dumb" and Sophie Potter whisper that I was "a big fat liar."

"Why is she always telling fibs?" Tracey Pratt whispered.

I didn't understand. Sophie and Tracey used to love listening to my childhood memories.

I felt my cheeks burning but didn't know what I had done wrong. I did remember the runner beans. I could still see them jogging in circles, puffing and panting as they did laps around me, and my mother chasing after them with a chopping knife and telling me to watch my head. I remembered that.

Didn't I?

"Meg May," said Mrs. Partridge sharply, "you're almost eight now. I hope this isn't how you think an eight-year-old should behave. Now, go and sit in the corner and don't rejoin Elm table until you can stop being silly!"

And so I slunk off into the corner, confused and ashamed, hot tears burning my eyes.

***

After that day I questioned everything. I knew beans couldn't run and people couldn't float, so how was it that I remembered these things happening? Did I remember these things happening? Or was it like that time I found myself telling everyone how once, in nursery school, I had spun in circles so many times that I had thrown up on the play rug?

"That didn't happen to you, silly!" squealed Jenny Bell. "That happened to me!"

"Oh, yeah!" I screamed. "That was you! I don't know why I said that!"

At the time we had nearly wet ourselves laughing, but now, after my humiliation at the hands of Red Class, the incident seemed to take on new meaning. How had I thought that something that had happened to Jenny had actually happened to me? Was it because she had told me that story so many times that I had somehow put myself in her shoes? What if being encircled by frightened, puffing runner beans was not a memory at all? And if my memories had never really happened, then what had happened? Memory, it suddenly seemed, was subject to distortions and could not be trusted.

"Well, I remember it happening," my mother said defiantly when I questioned her about it. "Those blasted things were fit as fiddles and just kept going and going. I distinctly remember that by the time I caught up with them, I was too exhausted to cook them, and we ended up having egg on toast for dinner instead."

"But beans don't run," I persisted.

"Huh! You try telling them that!"

Suffice it to say that by the age of eight I was confused. Could I trust my mother? Could I trust my own mind? Only one thing was for sure: never again would I humiliate myself by talking about things that might not be true. Even if there was only the tiniest chance that something might not be true, I would hesitate before saying it. I would weigh everything up first, use every bit of knowledge and reasoning I had, and then try to come to a sensible conclusion. Only when I was one hundred percent sure that my views were logical and right would I give voice to them. That way nobody could ever call me a liar again, and nobody would be able to laugh at me.

In a fit of overzealousness, I threw out my dolls and packed away my storybooks in an attempt to rid my life of any make-believe that might contaminate my mind. I pinched myself each time I daydreamed as a form of punishment. I listened to my mother's stories with nothing more than polite detachment and sat alone on the wall at break times, watching my classmates with disdain as they ran around pretending to be ponies and princesses. They didn't understand the danger they were in, teetering on the edge of fantasy worlds that threatened to pull them in and drag them under, sapping them of any logic and making them laughingstocks.

But I knew. I had seen the dark gulf between fiction and reality, and there was no way I was going to be dragged down into the abyss.

Without knowing it, I had already decided to become a scientist.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Beautifully conveyed...delicate and magical. Happy to recommend this book!" - Marilyn Lustig, Wellesley Books

"From the Kitchen of Half Truth depicts a complicated mother-daughter relationship that anyone can appreciate." - Jessilynn Norcross, McLean & Eakin Booksellers

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