Island Apart Review
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Poppy seed-crusted scallops with fiddlehead fern pesto. Beach plum jam. Hazelnut pear tarts. It’s not the kind of fare that you’d expect a hermit to have in his culinary repertoire—and yet he does. The Hermit lives in a remote corner of Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha’s Vineyard, though no one knows exactly where—or who he is, or how long he’s been there, or even what he sounds like, since he never speaks.

Claire Doheney is a recent arrival to the island, house-sitting for a friend in a $4 million beach home while she edits a book, deals with her college professor husband’s adultery with a co-ed, and recuperates from cancer. Like the Hermit, she’s also an excellent cook, and one of the pleasures she still enjoys, despite the physical and emotional exhaustion she’s experiencing, is the ability to create interesting dishes on the spur of the moment from whatever she has on hand.

One day, on a back road on the island, their worlds collide in one powerful moment of crisis and compassion. But how can two people so weary and wary move beyond that moment to create a lasting friendship? For Claire and the Hermit, the answer lies in their passion for food.

I chose to read this book because I’m a fan of the author, Steven Raichlen. He’s written award-winning cookbooks, and he’s also the host of several television programs on PBS, specializing in barbecue. But, more than that, he’s studied culinary history and culture, and I was intrigued to see how he’d incorporate his love of food into a novel—and more so, into a love story set on a beautiful island off the Massachusetts coast.

The novel is—if you’ll forgive the word—“succulent.” It’s a gentle story, not rushed, that invites you to the island to relax and become a part of the lives of these two people. They have their sadness and their secrets, and the Hermit carries an especially anguished backstory. Yet none of this takes away from the enjoyment of the setting that Raichlen describes for us—or of the hesitant, awkward, bittersweet interactions as the characters negotiate this unusual friendship. Of course, Raichlen’s in his element when he has them each creating wonderful dishes for the other using locally-sourced food.

The universal truth here is that sharing food is a form of kindness that transcends culture, language, even time; food can speak an invitation into our home and heart when we cannot find the words to do so.

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