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The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
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The Plated Heart
By Diane Goodman
 
Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006
 
Reviewed by Angela Leroux-Lindsey
Angela Leroux-Lindsey is a freelance writer living in New York City. She is currently editing her debut novel.
Set against the selective glamour and turquoise-tinged privilege of Miami Beach, The Plated Heart offers a glimpse into the lives of those who brush elbows with the wealthy but are not among them, whose jobs are to see but not be seen, whose talents are applauded but not recognized: this is the heady underworld of private chefs. Goodman's principal characters are all somewhat melancholy, revealing emotional isolation and unrequited longing via relationships with varying acquaintances, including, of course, food. Meals and their preparation illuminate both a class divide as well as an ultimate unifier: we all eat, but only some serve. Goodman breathes life into those invisibles with endearing glimpses into the mundane, championing strength in character and culinary accomplishment; it is in personal realms that these chefs lack the ability to connect, to transcend. A lunch-truck gourmet is astute and well-liked among his construction-worker comrades, but is mute. A small-town twenty-something chef is talented and successful, but can't separate her identity as an individual from her identity as a devoted daughter. A widower, bowed by grief, manufactures a rebound romance from unassuming cordiality at the supermarket. A kindergarten teacher finds herself caring full-time for a great-aunt and learns to cook via the dubious advances of a grocery-store butcher. In this story, The Butcher—Goodman's best—she effortlessly draws the reader into main character Janine’s kaleidoscopic world of the city, her job, her great-aunt, her absent but opportunistic mother: 
‘At 2:00 in the morning, Tia called out and Janine woke up, the baseball bat she slept with in her hand.

“What, Tia, what is it?” Janine said, running to her aunt’s room. She was panicked and her heart was a cyclone in her chest. Tia could be calling out for water or for the cool wash cloth she liked when she couldn’t sleep or she could be calling out because her breath was coming too fast and maybe she was ready to go and Janine knew all this, but she also knew that Tia could be calling out for something else—something very wrong—and that if she had to, Janine would wield the bat into someone’s head or gut with the power she had been helpless to access once before.

“What is it, Tia?” she said, coming into her aunt’s room. She turned on the light and saw nothing but her aunt squinting, putting a hand up to cover her eyes.

“So bright,” Tia said, squinting. Then moving her hand and getting adjusted to the light, she saw the bat. “Oh, honey,” she said with a sigh.

Janine let the bat drop to her side. “What’s the matter, Tia? Why are you up?”

“Time to go to the store,” Tia said.’ 

This story stands out because here Goodman alludes to a history, of something deeper in her characters—brevity is dramatic, but only when layered and evocative. The Butcher captures a snapshot of one woman’s summer, yet also reveals an evolution of perception, a strengthening of self, and finally, a cyclical regression. Short and sweet, it is not, but it’s real, and has impact. 

The others in Goodman’s collection are less successful, offering a one-dimensional entree to poorly-built dramatic tension that, coupled with her tendency for awkward grammar, seem amateur and cause the attempt at capturing the bittersweet to turn saccharine. (Case in point: the cloying title). I look forward to seeing more varied work by Goodman, where she can reach past her own profession and locale (she happens to be a private chef living in Miami) and allow her natural talent for capturing the delicacy of human connection to shine.