When Alice Hale leaves a career in publicity to become a writer and follows her husband to the New York suburbs, she is unaccustomed to filling her days alone in a big, empty house. But when she finds a vintage cookbook buried in a box in the old home’s basement, she becomes captivated by the cookbook’s previous owner – 1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch. As Alice cooks her way through the past, she realizes that within the cookbook’s pages Nellie left clues about her life – including a mysterious series of unsent letters penned to her mother.
Soon Alice learns that while Baked Alaska and meatloaf five ways may seem harmless, Nellie’s secrets may have been anything but. When Alice uncovers a more sinister – even dangerous – side to Nellie’s marriage, and has become increasingly dissatisfied with the mounting pressures in her own relationship, she begins to take control of her life and protect herself with a few secrets of her own.
This is the story of two women, both newlyweds and housewives, living in the same house ... Nellie was there in the mid-1950s and Alice lives there now.
Nellie is in her twenties. She'd taken care of her mother for many years when she was a child and she thought she found the perfect husband when Richard swept her offer her feet. He was older and he promised to take care of her. But it turns out that Richard is controlling and abusive and expects Nellie to be the perfect wife and his goal is to get her pregnant. Thankfully she has her garden to keep her happy and she's good friends with her older next door neighbour who she can confide in.
Alice is about 30 and was working in PR until she got fired. She and her husband, Nate, recently moved to the city to the suburbs into Nellie's house, which had been empty since the year before. Alice doesn't want to leave the city but Nate assures her that it will be a good opportunity to write the book she's always wanted to write plus get pregnant. When Alice finds a box of Nellie's cookbooks and magazines in the basement, she starts making some of the recipes and getting to know Nellie.
This is the second book I've read by this author and I thought it was okay. I liked the alternating narratives (the headings at the beginning of the chapters are labeled) as we got to know two women in similar situations who are living more than 50 years apart. It is written in third person perspective in Nellie and Alice's voice. As a head's up, there is some swearing and domestic violence.
I liked Nellie. She had taken care of her depressed mother for years and just wanted to be taken care of. She thought she had found the perfect man in Richard but he change as soon as they married. She tried but he was never happy with her. So she did what she had to do to survive.
I hated Alice and found her to be unbelievable. She's a "modern" woman with a career married to a great supportive guy. Yet she lied to Nate about everything ... why she wasn't working anymore, about getting pregnant, writing her book, smoking, etc. And for no reason except to manipulate him ... it's not like he was going to leave her or anything. And then she discovered that he did something towards the end and I went REALLY?! There's no way Nate would do what he was trying to do ... very unrealistic. I hated Alice's ending and there's no way I was buying into it. I would have been happy with the book just being Nellie's story.
At the beginning of each chapter there were recipes from Nellie's cookbook from the 1950s that were crazy ... it's hard to believe people ate that kind of stuff back then. Plus there were quotes from books from the early- to mid-1900s on how to be a good wife. Whoa!