Heartburn is the autobiographical yet fictitious story about a famous cookbook author whose husband has an affair with a mutual family friend. It reflects the real life story of the author who also wrote the screenplay for the 1986 movie adaptation. Heartburn was originally published in 1983 by Little Brown Book Group.
Our main protagonist and narrator, Rachel Samstat has a two year old son and is seven months pregnant with her second child when she discovers her husband’s affair with Thelma Rice, a character wholly underdeveloped beyond caricature-like descriptions. In the short pages of this thirteen chapter book, an intricate web of affairs and marriage breakdowns is woven making me think I had stumbled upon a melodrama.
I personally never got the chance to interact much with the Jewish community. Needless to say that I was largely ignorant as a result as regards their culture and custom. Heartburn somewhat reconciled that disconnect as it was told from the perspective of a Jewish female who shared pocketed insights about their culture.
Her profession as a food critic aside, one can appreciate the emphasis of food in Jewish culture. Rachel readily turns to food as a means to alleviate her mood or mitigate the marital strain that is pushing her husband away into the hands of another woman. Her fanciful musings concerning a black man whom she’d seen at the airport, and the presumed reaction of said stranger’s family to the notion of his marrying a Jewish woman, compounds the expectation to marry within the Jewish community. Every other insight was merely stereotypical like the comedy script piece on the Jewish Prince.
I thought the addition of the recipes that cropped up at various occasions of the book added a very imaginative break in prose, it changed the dynamic by providing comic relief and presented the use of food as an allegory, that cleverly explored the pain of being cheated on by one’s husband through its cultural significance. Above all, it certainly made me want to try the recipe for peach pie.
It seemed like the whole affair turned Rachel into a thinker as she spent most of the book philosophising about marriage, pregnancy and marital affairs. As such the book was mostly strewn with quippy wise-cracking dry humour that reflected the protagonist’s and by extension Ephron’s attempt to make light of a situation that is causing them pain.
Heartburn isn’t always politically correct but it is culturally aware, not just in terms of the Jewish community it represents but also the elitist circle that forces its members to ‘keep face,’ in its overly critical environment. The character of Betty aptly embodies this judgemental gossiping community of high station.
I found this book to be an interesting read though lacking in terms of character development. The abundance of flashbacks gave this satirical memoir pacing issues though admittedly it was funny at times. I would recommend Heartburn if you’re looking for a quick easy read or if you’re a foodie as all the recipes sound delicious. And on that note, I’m off to make that peach pie!
I rate Heartburn…
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