Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: Corked by Kathryn Borel

I've never had a talent for wine tasting but I've always admired those with a seasoned palate. You know, the ones who can easily distinguish an oaky or fruity character, and who actually know what a tannin is. Perhaps I'm just so accustomed to the cheap $10 bottle that my tastes will forever be far less sophisticated than the connoisseurs. I'm also very intrigued by the wine-making process. My bucket list includes a trip to Napa to visit some vineyards and wineries and absorb myself in all things grape. Until that day, I was happy to review the new memoir, Corked.

Author Kathryn Borel is an undutiful daughter to her father, Philippe, a hotelier and former chef, eccentric genius and wine aficionado extraordinaire. Kathryn is like her father in almost every way, except she is totally ignorant about wine. Although Philippe has shared countless tales and stories regarding viniculture, she has managed to remain unenlightened. But after a tragic accident and death, Kathryn realizes that by shutting herself off from her father's biggest passion, she will never really know him. So, in an effort to bond, she proposes a father-daughter road trip. Corked is the uncensored account of their tour through the great wine regions of France.

The book, for me, seemed to parallel the 2004 film Sideways, in which the subject of wine serves as the backdrop for character development and self-realization. This is not a French travel guide or a wine handbook. You'll want to leave that to Fodor's or a sommelier. This is an autobiography, containing some references to wine and the European countryside.

After fatally striking a pedestrian years ago, Kathryn has a heightened sense of urgency. She realizes her parents will one day die and that she has never really gotten to know her father beyond his love for wine. So, in order to rebuild their frail relationship, she plans a wine-tasting tour of southern France, determined to reconnect with him and perhaps learn a thing or two herself.
Maybe if I can plunge my hand into that dirt, into the roots, this stuff will come to life. Maybe if I see the grapes, the actual grapes, I'll understand the transformation. Like when you meet a baby and see how their vague personality traits - the way they chuckle, their aversion to raisins but not currants - will become amplified and crystallized in later life. I want to meet the babies. Wine babies.
In the beginning of the book, I'll admit I despised the characters. Phillipe is emotionally constipated and inconsiderate with a sickening sense of humor. He rarely speaks unless it is a long, drawn-out history lesson or lecture and his expectations of others are impossibly high. He is repeatedly belligerent to waitstaff, yet he says nothing to the assistant who undresses his daughter with his eyes. In a flashback, Kathryn reveals that he once asked her to prepare a dinner. She happily obliged, preparing a painstakingly perfect shrimp and orzo dish. To her surprise, he came home with trout instead, oblivious to her efforts or feelings. And to top it off, Phillipe once muses about kicking a baby across the room to watch it smash against the wall. Can we say "anger issues"? There was nothing to like about this guy from the start.

My feelings for Kathryn weren't much keener. I thought that being we are close in age, I would be able to relate to her point of view. But I found her immature, self-indulgent and impatient. She is eager to win her fathers' admiration and approval, yet when he speaks, her eyes glaze over as she drifts off to lament about her ex-boyfriend, with whom she regrets breaking up. Apparently, she inherited her father's selfish nature and always found a way to turn a situation into something all about her. I grew exhausted with their "woe is me" attitudes and their petty arguments.

But as the story progressed, I found myself strangely engaged. I had to know if/how this toxic, dysfuncitonal pair was going to resolve their differences. While surely annoying, these characters were real. Warts and all. Kathryn bravely bares her flaws and while I often felt she was a selfish brat, I couldn't help but feel a bit empathetic as she struggled with her past, present and future. While she took several detours to revisit previous events, the imagery of her journey made me feel like I was standing on a cobblestone street right there in wine country.

The book does occasionally use profanity and with the flashbacks, I was sometimes confused as to what was taking place when. It was a relatively easy read and I was able to read it cover to cover in 4 hours despite its depressing undertones. But overall, I enjoyed the expose.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a light, happy beach read, this is NOT it. However, if you've ever experienced a "corked" or sour relationship with an immediate family member, you'll enjoy this sensational, brazen memoir.

BUY IT: You can purchase Corked from most major book retailers as well as online at (ARV $16.31).

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by the Product Review Place. I was sent a free copy of this book from Anna at Hachette Book Group. I was in no other way compensated for this post.


Rose City Reader said...

Good review! Brazen is a good word to describe this book.

Here is my review on Rose City Reader.

If you would like me to add a link to your review on mine, please leave a comment with the link on my review post and I will add it. I don't like to link without asking first, but I don't always remember to retrace my steps to find a reply comment. But a comment on my post will go to my email.

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