Monday, July 22, 2013

"Shakespeare's Kitchen," by Lore Segal

The name of the author Lore Segal is familiar to me, yet I cannot remember what I have read by her. Perhaps, a long time ago, her early novel, “Her First American”? She also writes children’s books, so perhaps I read some to my daughter when she was young? In any case, I have now just read her “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” (The New Press, 2007), a collection of short stories that reads very much like a novel, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book has nothing to do with “the” Shakespeare; one of the three main characters is named Leslie Shakespeare. The others are his wife Eliza and his mistress Ilka. They, along with most of the other characters, work for or are connected to a think tank in Connecticut, the Concordance Institute. The novel is about the small and big events in the lives of this group of colleagues and friends. Even more, as the author points out in an “Author’s Note,” she was “thinking about our need not only for family and sexual love and friendship but for a ‘set’ to belong to: the circle made of friends, acquaintances, and the people one knows.” I think this is a wonderful, fascinating theme; as Segal says, most of us have, or want to have, such a network of people to be part of. In this book, she shows us the daily interactions, gatherings, connections of this particular group of friends; many of these interactions take place in the “Shakespeare’s kitchen” of the title. Most of the action takes place over a period of perhaps 20 years, with a bit of looking back at the end of the book. There is love, sex, work, conflict, kindness, conversation, illness, deception, reconciliation, gossip, intrusions from the outside world, and much more. There is, too, a bit of humor, even gentle satire, about the think tank and its members. This is a very human and completely engrossing book; I highly recommend it.

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