Friday, October 25, 2013
FFB: The Cook - Harry Kressing
The Cook starts off like a fairy tale and as its very simple plot unravels it becomes a dark fable on all of the seven deadly sins. Vanity, Gluttony, Lust, Avarice, Pride, Wrath, Sloth -- all are here, some more prominent than others. Conrad Venn is entranced with the Gothic castle known as the Prominence situated on a remote plateau outside the town of Cobb. Though the grounds are beautifully kept and the imposing presence of the castle is hypnotically fascinating Conrad wonders whether it is inhabited. He travels into town and learns from a tavern keeper of the legend of the castle and the feud between the Hills and the Vales, descendants of A. Cobb, the original owner of the Prominence. Conrad also learns of Cobb's strange will that prevents the Prominence to be occupied again until the two families quit fighting and are joined through marriage. The tavern keeper says the feud is long over, but the Hills and Vales still live apart from one another with little contact. Each family is dying off with the last of the Vales being Daphne Vale, an enormously fat young woman who rarely goes out, and Harold the only son of the surviving Hills her only prospect for marriage. With this legend planted in Conrad's mind and the fact that the two families seem to be obsessed with outdoing each other when it comes to their cooks Conrad takes it upon himself to unite the families and re-open the doors of the Prominence.
Kressing tells his story with a mix of black humor and brief explosions of unexpected violence. Conrad is feared and admired by everyone he encounters. With only a hint or a subtle suggestion he gets everyone to do his bidding. He is an untouchable magician, the wise man on the mountain, and always a formidable presence. Even when he nearly severs the hand of a man he intentionally injured he somehow manages to come out the hero of the day. The Hills, the Vales and the entire town of Cobb are at his mercy. He gets what he wants from each person he meets, using them and playing up to their vanities and vices. Conrad always wins; his associates and students often pay a heavy price.
The Cook is a fable, an allegory, a thriller, a satire. It's a phantasmagorical and intoxicating read. Like eating a fine meal in the best restaurant reading The Cook is one of those rare pleasures you don't want to end. It's not surprising to me at all that those who have discovered this book return to it over and over for more tastes of something one just can't get enough of.