Baker extraordinaire Olivia Rawlings has been sought after for her mad kitchen skills in major cities all over the U.S. She’s used to working 80-hour weeks and going home to her tiny Boston apartment and her enormous Irish-wolfhound mix. In between creating desserts with names like Flourless Chocolate Torte, Lemon Mousse with Lemon Curd, and Huckleberry Clafoutis, she dyes her hair with colors like Electric Amethyst, Enchanted Forest, and Manic Panic Electric Tiger Lily. In a moment of mood, or perhaps boredom, there was that poorly considered tattoo on her ass of kitchen utensils. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
It’s an existence that doesn’t encourage close ties but, as every workaholic sugar devotee should, Livvy has a BFF who lives in what may be the most charming town in the Vermont countryside. There’s this fantasy that the city dweller dwells on, and it goes a little something like this: life in the country, although picturesque, would be slow, dull, and devoid of fair trade coffee houses housing surly baristas, and music halls where the independently spirited can rock on with all the latest indie bands.
On the flip side, there’s this fantasy that country dwellers dwell on, and it goes a little something like this: life in the city is crowded, noisy, devoid of natural beauty, anonymous, freeing, and stimulating.
They’re both right. But at some point, a person’s got to choose. “Welcome to Guthrie. Where everybody knows everything, but no one says a word,” says one character as a way of explaining the character of the town itself. It’s a place where Livvy, checking out the local bar scene, notes that “It seemed as if everyone knew one another, like at a high school reunion.” You can only find out by reading the book whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
In her first novel, author Louise Miller, Wellesley High School Class of 1989, takes readers on a tour of the circle of life. Love, birth, marriage, death, (with a dash of betrayal and a pinch of comeuppance thrown in for good measure) combine with running away when that’s what seems easy. What Livvy begins to understand is that staying away can be as difficult as baking a blue-ribbon worthy apple pie.
This one isn’t for book group. You’ll all feel obligated to sniff about how it was a nice story and all, but there wasn’t really much there. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living doesn’t deserve that kind of mean-girl treatment. Livvy has been through enough, and in the reading, you’ll find that your hopes for her future start to rise as high as one of Livvy’s perfectly crafted loaves of bread.
This one is for you to read this fall sitting in your favorite chair in front of the fire, curled up in an afghan, cup of tea at your elbow, with your golden retriever thumping his tail at your feet. This is one to pass along to your mom and your sisters and your aunts. Go ahead and send a copy to them all with instructions to read it before the holidays. That way you’ll all have the opportunity to chat at Thanksgiving about the nature of true belonging and sense of home. And wouldn’t that be a blessing?
Author and WHS graduate Louise Miller is a pastry chef who lives and works in Boston. She received a scholarship to attend GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program, a year-long workshop for novelists. She is an art school dropout, an amateur flower gardener, an old-time banjo player, an obsessive moviegoer, and a champion of old dogs. She once won second place at the Topsfield Fair for her apple pie. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is her debut novel.