A review of

You’re Not You

by Michelle Wildgen

Central question: How do we learn to be competent?
Format: 288 pp., cloth; Size: 5-1/2" x 8-1/4"; Price: $23.95; Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press); Editors: Anne Merrow and Katie Gilligan; Author is: A senior editor at Tin House; Author wrote an ode to: An egg (called “Ode to an Egg,” published in Best Food Writing 2004); Partial recipe for a tantalizing pear crisp: Included (pp. 259-261); Novel started as: a short story for the Prairie Schooner; Representative passage: “The pears were beautiful, speckled and blushing, leaves still clinging to a few of their stems. They smelled of honey and of their own tough, herbal-scented skins.”

Michelle Wildgen’s You’re Not You is a deeply sensual book, a Natural History of the Senses for foodies. “The kitchen smelled so rich—” says Bec, the novel’s central character, “all wine and meat and thyme and onion—it seemed we should be able to taste the air.” A chef’s knife is “a thing of beauty… its sleekness, its weighted, steady handle, its diamond point.” Empty plates “[gleam] with oil and… [bear] hardened, white smears of goat cheese.” Even anxiety is fruitlike: “I felt a plum-sized knot of misgiving.” There is much in this world to savor, Wildgen suggests. I’m not a foodie, but by the end of You’re Not You, I considered buying a steely knife of my own.

Bec, a college student, has an excellent teacher in the kitchen. Kate “used to love to cook” but now has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), uses a wheelchair at thirty-six years old, and requires twenty-four-hour care. Bec is her caregiver. When not working, Bec is sleeping with a married professor and skipping most of her classes at U. Madison. She’s a bumbler, a little tactless. She wanders into things without fully considering the consequences. “What were you?” she asks bluntly at one point, meaning Kate, meaning pre-ALS. But it’s an honest question, and Bec’s lack of self-censorship suits Kate. Worse would be condescension.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Lara Tupper

Lara Tupper used to be a lounge singer in Dubai and now teaches fiction at Rutgers University. Her first novel, A Thousand and One Nights, will be published by Harcourt in February 2007. Her website is laratupper.com.

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