Comfort Food is Kate Jacobs’ follow-up to The Friday-Night Knitting Club and it is one of those slick books that seems like it should a lot better than it is. Gus Simpson is the host of Cooking with Gusto! on a Food Network-like channel. Gus is about to turn 50 and dreading it though we are informed over and over that she is “hot” for her age. In addition to her birthday crisis, her relationship with her daughters is strained. One falls in love every few months and the other seems never to have fun. To make matters worse, her bosses are worried that ratings are down for her show and decide to pair her on a new show with Carmen Vega, a Spanish beauty queen who is a rising star on the food circuit. Sensation sells, and after a few rocky live broadcasts during which kitchens almost burn down, Gus’ entire family, neighbor and daughter’s ex-boyfriend join the show. Will Gus’ future be assured? Will her relationship with her daughters improve? do I care?
I wanted to like this book. Really I did. It is bogged down by too many characters and their backgrounds and motivations as well as too many directions. It has somewhat of a plot. At first I thought it was supposed to be about Gus proving she has value despite the oh-so-advanced age of 50. Then I thought maybe it would be a girl power-type book in which Gus and Carmen become friends and take over the network, destroying stereotypes about age and beauty in the process. But no. This book. like Gus’ new show, is an ensemble piece, and as such it’s a mess like its characters.
I don’t think I liked anyone in the book for more than a few pages. I think I was supposed to have sympathy for Gus, but she came off as bitchy as Carmen at times and clueless with her daughters. Her daughters need therapy. Her neighbor needs therapy. And the prominent presence of her daughter’s ex-boyfriend was sort of baffling. Carmen was bitchy one minute but sweet the next and while I think that was Jacobs’ attempt to give her depth, it came off as inconsistent especially when she was bitchy without reason and she clearly had redeeming qualities. The best parts of the book was when the characters came together to film the show. I wish there had been more of those. Clearly the food is meant to function as a therapy session for all of these flawed individuals, but it feels forced and contrived.