Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: Baker's Blues by Judith Ryan Hendricks

I must admit that I have a bread machine. It probably doesn't redeem me in any way to say that it is generally dusty with disuse either. I know that it is merely a shortcut for homemade bread and that it cannot come close to the delectable stuff made by hand in artisanal bakeries and the kitchens of home bakers but we all work with our own skills. And much as I'd love to actually learn to bake my own bread from scratch, I just don't see it in the cards for me, at least not on a regular basis, and certainly not as a passion. That doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the skill that goes into making it or a gorgeous description of warm, yeasty bread with steam curling up from the torn bit of crust. Now I'm just making myself hungry! Judith Ryan Hendrick's newest novel, Baker's Blues, about a baker and her ex-husband, is the third in a trilogy that gets both bread making and the complications of love and relationships right.

Wynter Morrison owns a successful bakery in Los Angeles. She's somehow gotten away from making the bread herself, caught up in the logistics of owning the business rather than sinking her hands into the dough. She's been divorced from ex-husband Mac for several years but she is still thrown for a loop when she gets the early morning phone call that he has died unexpectedly. They share a long history and still cared for each other despite their divorce. Jumping back in time from the funeral and Mac's daughter's unreasonable anger at Wyn for her father's death, the novel turns to the past and the story of Wyn and Mac's marriage unraveling. Wyn works hard at her bakery and tries to support Mac, a best-selling author turning his book into a screenplay, as he does PR events and hits the party circuit. She misses the old, uncomplicated Mac she used to know, not certain of this slick and unhappy seeming version of himself. She wants him to open up and talk to her about his feelings, something he cannot do. In fact, he walks out on their marriage rather than face his demons or share his secrets. When Mac goes, Wyn has to find strength and meaning in herself again.

Opening the novel with Mac's death and then going back to plumb the depths of their relationship is very effective, allowing the reader to know that despite their divorce, Wyn's reaction to his death proves that neither Wyn nor Mac is a villain in the novel. The slow disintegration of their marriage and the reason behind it is incredibly emotional. Hendricks has drawn both Wyn's hurt frustration and Mac's deep despair and inability to stop sabotaging them very true to life. Wyn's character is hit with a confluence of terrible or life altering events all at once: Mac's desertion, the death of her beloved dog, an earthquake hitting Southern California, and her manager and friend leaving to go to school. It is no wonder that she's completely adrift or that she turns back to the slow art of creating, kneading, and baking bread as she tries to wrap her head around an unimaginable future. The majority of the novel is narrated by Wyn but there are several chapters where the perspective turns to the third person and the focus is on Mac. This gives the reader both Wyn's thoughts and reactions to Mac but also shows the depth of the depression crippling Mac's interpersonal relations and a well rounded explanation into the complexity of their love, which outlasts their marriage.

The novel is the final book in a trilogy but it easily stands on its own. Readers who start at the beginning with Bread Alone and continue with The Baker's Apprentice will already know some of the history that haunts Wyn and Mac and they will have a richer understanding of their relationships with many of the secondary characters but none of this knowledge is necessary to enjoy Baker's Blues. Although it tackles the hard topic of being depressed and living with someone who is depressed, there is still a warm and comfortable feel to the writing and the story. The reader is pulled along through the end of Wyn and Mac's marriage, knowing what is coming but still turning the pages to see how they get there and how Wyn will go on after Mac's death. There are a significant number of secondary plot lines here that compliment the main story arc. Be warned that the luscious descriptions of food and bread will have your stomach rumbling as you read. Sad and lovely, I recommend you read all three of the books but even just this one will do.

For more information about Judith Ryan Hendricks and the book, check out her website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I have a dusty bread machine too ...

    Living with someone who is depressed is so incredibly difficult and draining. I'm interested to see how Wynn learns to go on with her life.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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