“We live in the age of communication but nobody knows how to communicate anymore. It’s just e-mailing and texting, not communicating. Nobody’s dealing with reality. It’s a shame,” says Edward, the titular character of Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent. The slim volume is a gastronomic memoir that explores what it means to find connection and acceptance.
Vincent, who wrote much of Dinner with Edward at the Westhampton Free Library, explains, “[Edward’s] assertions never veered too far from certain fundamental themes—he spoke about recognizing ‘the stranger in all of us’ and achieving what he liked to call ‘a resting place of the soul,’ by which I now realize he meant self-assurance and being happy in your own skin. Or as he put it, ‘a place in your head where you are at peace with your life, with your decisions.’”
The elderly Edward and much younger Vincent, a New York Post investigative reporter, come together in the wake of Edward’s wife’s death. His daughter, who’s returning home to Canada, asks Vincent to look in on her father. So begins a routine of carefully prepared dinners that provides Edward and Vincent something to look forward to while they struggle with their individual trials. For Edward, it’s finding the will to continue living after his wife of nearly 70 years has passed away. For Vincent, recently moved to New York City and facing the prospect of a disintegrating marriage, it’s rediscovering who she is and taking ownership of herself in this next phase of her life.
And then there’s the food. Each chapter begins with a menu that includes items such as chicken paillard, almond cake and pommes de terres soufflés (Edward’s fancy name for French fries). Instructions for making the dishes appear throughout the book. “‘Butter and a little bit of lard in the dough, darling,’” Edward tells Vincent when she asks him for his pastry recipe.
The scenes of Edward preparing the food are interwoven with Vincent’s narration of her devolving relationship with her soon-to-be ex-husband and her acclimation to the hectic New York Post newsroom where “[My] boss…completely deleted a story I wrote about an environmental charity run by the musician Sting and insisted I rewrite it on the spot…‘This is how you write a story,’ he barked, pointing a stubby finger at the now black computer screen. ‘Statement! Quote to back it up! Statement! Quote to back it up…’”
But life is more complicated than statement/quote. Dinner with Edward is a book about the complex task of finding and nurturing human connection through the oldest of traditions: breaking bread. At Edward’s dining room table, Vincent allows herself to be vulnerable, authentic. Edward speaks candidly of his past dreams of being an actor and of his father’s death. They help each other find humor in the darkness and celebrate each other’s triumphs.
Vincent’s clean prose style is easy to read and moves you quickly through the well-paced scenes. By the end of it, you’ll find yourself yearning for the kind of rare bond she and Edward share—and, of course, you’ll wish that you, too, could be lucky enough to taste Edward’s sublime pommes de terres soufflés.
Isabel Vincent will give a reading from Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship in a special “Dessert & Discuss” event on Friday, June 17 at noon at the Westhampton Free Library, where she wrote much of the book. The event is in association with Books & Books. Find more info at events.danspapers.com.