With an airy step and dressed in a fiery red dress Rebecca Barry approached the stage last Sunday afternoon at the Rongovian Embassy—a cozy enclave in the heart of Trumansburg, New York—wearing a Mona Lisa style smile that was half for herself and half for the several dozen persons gathered at the bar for the reading of her latest book, “Recipes for a Beautiful Life.”
She speaks as she writes, in flowing streams of self-criticism, humor, truth and the comings and goings of the everyday life of a mother who is also a critically acclaimed author (a previous book, “Later at the bar,” received mention as a New York Times notable book and was also a best seller).
The Times is right on when on the back cover of “Recipes” it says that her characters are “so smart, hilarious, and real that one can’t help being utterly seduced by them and what their lives teach us.” The characters are the real life persons that inhabit Rebecca’s world.
Before reading chapters from her book, persons of all ages enjoyed exotic drinks, specialties of the Rongovian Embassy, such as “Suffering” (gin, brandy, Rose’s lime cordial and ginger beer or “Dead-Done Dying? Add some rum, get it done, or more prosaic options: lemonade or coca cola.
So when Rebecca accommodated herself on the stage, amid the prancing and dancing of her four and a half year old niece Sophie, her audience was already attentive. “Recipes” is subtitled “A memoir in stories.” The mother-author takes notes of what happens to her and those around her in her daily life as mother and writer and then with great skill injects those events with the structure of an experienced story-teller.
A look at the table of contents provides a good warm-up to the narrative exercises that are to follow: “How to be a Dilettante;” “How to get the romance back into your marriage;” “How to quit your job;” “How to fall back in love with your life;” “How to say what you really think;” “How to let go of a dream;” “How to finish a project;” “How to deal with rejections, Part I;” “How to have a nervous breakdown;” “How to have a long distance relationship.”
But Rebecca understands that words are toys as well as tools. She is not really giving recipes; rather she processes her own life as the raw material for elaborating entertaining real life stories which (most) readers can relate to as if they were their own experiences.
Rebecca moved to upstate New York with her husband, publisher Tommy Dunne, so that they could be surrounded by the area’s natural beauty and so they could find inspiration for their creative work. But dreams have their complications: the repairs that old houses need, money problems, those days when words just won’t find their way to paper, the highs and lows of everyday life, sleepless nights, the neighbor’s adventures with musical instruments, getting the children off to school, sudden doubts about her role of mother and a writer, moments of despair, of love, of genuine joy, how a woman’s profession intermixes with bringing up lively rambunctious children…
Her writing reads almost as spontaneously as a class of yoga breathing—and just for the record, there is a chapter or two about her Yoga lessons.
How to Unleash Your Inner Superwoman: October 16, 2007: “This morning I was sitting on the couch reading a story to Liam (her son) when he interrupted me, looked at my chest, and said, ‘Mom, do you use your boobs every day?’ I looked down at my breasts, sitting in their underwire harness. “Not as much as I used to,” I said to Liam.”
How to Quit Your Job December 2, 2007. “Tommy came back from a week in New York yesterday, and today when we were in the car coming back from getting groceries, he said that his company was offering a severance package for people who volunteered to be laid off, and he was thinking about taking it.”
How to Lose Your Baby Weight January 15, 2008. “This morning in the car Liam said happily, ‘Mommy, you’re fat.’
“’Liam!” I said. ‘That is not a nice thing to say.’ I was trying to drive, which I actively dislike doing.
“’But you are,’ said Liam. ‘Your belly is fat because I was in there.’”
Recipe: Heal Your Heart “Sit in a quiet room with a notebook. Ask yourself what it is that needs to be healed. Write for ten minutes—a letter to your heartache, or to yourself. Dear heartache, Dear (your name here), Dear body I’ve been talking about so meanly, Dear former self who did something I’m so ashamed of, Write a litter to this person, body part, ghost that has been haunting you. Put it away. Go pick a fight with someone you love. Repeat until you realize you are both on the same side.”
How to Deal with Rejection, Part 2. June 13, 2011. “Today my new editor called to talk about my latest revision. ‘First of all, I love the main character,’ she said. “She’s funny and warm and I really identify with her.’
“’Great!’” I said, and held my breath, waiting for the ‘but’ I knew was coming.’”
Applause, hugs, kisses. Oh! The afternoon would not have been complete without the performance of “Coffee Shop Boys”--actually rather more than boys—who did a rendition of “Paperback writer:”
“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer
Rebecca Barry: http://recipesforabeautifullife.com
Rebecca Barry: http://recipesforabeautifullife.com