THE NEWS FROM SPAIN: 7 Variations on a Love Story. By Joan Wickersham. Knopf. 224 pages. $24.95.
Like an elementary school math game, Joan Wickersham’s “The News From Spain” rearranges the same handful of elements to create innovative combinations, examining the different paths that lead to heartbreak. She includes the phrase “The News From Spain” in each story, changing its meaning contextually. Other recurring components — including a bathtub and paralysis, for example — waft in and out of the narratives.
These stories are meant to reflect musical variations in form, but the sestina poetic construction also comes to mind. In one of her stories, she places the sopranos from two Mozart operas in modern times to fill each other’s lives in the absence of their respective philandering tenors.
Wickersham’s keen insight and observation of the human heart are at once intimate and universal. “The News From Spain” cleverly explores love, its variables, and whether or not order and design influence an outcome.
ALL GONE: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments. By Alex Witchel. Riverhead. 224 pages. $26.95.
Alex Witchel’s memoir, “All Gone,” is not really about cooking to cope with her mother’s dementia, as the book’s cover suggests. Rather than weaving three strands together to present a smooth braid (her life, her mother’s dementia and cooking), Witchel’s life takes a more prominent role, leaving a lopsided product.
It’s not that her love life and rise to journalism stardom as a food writer for The New York Times aren’t interesting and written well, but more than half of the pages will have turned before you encounter much about dementia.
Witchel, who tries to bring her mother’s slipping personality back through the kitchen, does so mostly with recipes her mother never made. Her experience making a turkey from the hairdresser’s recipe book or another Times food writer’s kreplach fill the pages.
More accurately, this is a memoir of Witchel’s life so far, which, because she considers cooking comforting, has lately included food in her attempt to deal with her mother’s sickness. She copes by writing, not reviving her mother’s recipes.
Reviewer Leah Harrison is an arts writer in Charleston.