Allegra Goodman is often described as a 21st-century Jane Austen. Like Austen, she writes subtle and engaging social comedies that focus on love, betrayal and familial loyalty. But Goodman’s settings, from the Orthodox Jewish community of Kaaterskill Falls to the cancer labs of Intuition, make her work distinct, rich in contemporary ideas and modern circumstances. In The Cookbook Collector, Goodman looks hard at two disparate worlds—antiquarian book collecting and the dot-com business—and finds interesting connections between the two.
At the core of the novel are 20-something sisters Emily and Jessamine Bach. Emily is the CEO of Veritech, a thriving computer data storage lab in Silicon Valley. Her younger sister, Jessamine, an eternal grad student living frugally in Berkeley, works at an antiquarian bookstore. Where Emily is thorough and ambitious, Jessamine is dreamy and disorganized.
Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, also owns a flourishing web start-up, though its location on the opposite coast adds strain to their relationship. Jessamine is involved with a manipulative yet charismatic leader of the Tree Savers, an eco-group dedicated to saving the redwoods. She is also drawn to her boss George, a wealthy refugee from Microsoft who has turned his fortune into an extremely comfortable lifestyle and a successful career as a book dealer. When Jessamine negotiates the purchase of a cookbook collection from a reluctant seller, her relationship with George intensifies.
The Cookbook Collector is set in the late 1990s, and the reader has the benefit of ironic distance. We can foresee not just the end of the dot-com boom that burst the financial bubble of Silicon Valley, but the events of September 2001, which changed so much politically and personally. As Emily and Jessamine search for love and fulfillment amid economic disaster and tragedy, the reader is grateful for a skilled guide like Allegra Goodman.