Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (and Psychonauts)

Note: If you don’t want to read me gushing about a video game (that you should play), just scroll down to the cover of the book, as always.

Hi, everyone. It’s a bit a while, hasn’t it? Let me tell you what’s been up.

As soon as I finished Peony in Love, I picked up a book that I actually owned, called The Alphabet Sisters, which was fanciful and girly and the kind of story that I would watch in a two-hour movie, but not a 300-page book. Still, because the 100-page mark was actually interesting, I made it to about 150 pages before deciding to drop it. And that took me about five days. Five reading days, I should say, because when I was perhaps ten pages into that book, my brother started poking me about playing Psychonauts.

I spent the next three solid days immersed in a complete video game trance.

Just to be clear: I am not a video gamer. This is not some hidden facet of my personality that I have never revealed to anyone, it’s actually not there. I so very rarely play video games, and when I do, I am so very bad at them. But Psychonauts was different.

(Yes, I am actually about to review this video game along with my book. Are you convinced that this is worth your time?)

Psychonauts is about a kid named Razputin (Raz) who breaks into a summer camp for kids with psychic powers. He’s run away from the circus where he was raised to learn to harness the innate talents that are shunned in his world, and to become a psychonaut- psychic soldiers that defend the government, basically. So, your job as the player is to take Raz through camp, learning all the psychic powers you need along the way.

Things don’t go as smoothly as you would hope. Within his first few hours at camp, Raz discovers a plot to steal the brains of the kids. So of course, he has to get them back, find out who’s behind this, and stop them. And learn all the psychic powers necessary for becoming a psychonaut. And since he snuck into the camp, the teachers called his dad, who’s now on his way to pick him up. So Raz has to accomplish all of this in one night.

It’s actually hard to explain this next part, even though it’s where all of the action of the game takes place: since this is psychic warfare, the entire thing happens in peoples’ minds. Specifically, crazy peoples’ minds. It just kind of turns out that way. Shortly after the “basic braining” tutorial level, Raz receives a little door that he can attach to peoples’ heads to enter their minds. Every mind is a completely fleshed out world, each animated differently, and each one works differently. The strategies that got you through Boyd’s mind won’t even touch Fred’s crazy. You have to progress through the minds of the crazy people to find the mastermind behind the brainstealing plan.

It’s completely brilliant.

Now here’s the thing: if you’re like me and not exactly compatible with video games, that’s okay! For the most part, this game is very playable. I beat almost the entire thing all on my own, with no help from my brother (the part at which he did help me was actually where he was watching me play and asked me to let him give it a shot. I did not, in any way, beg for his help, as I have in the past). The very end was the hardest part. If you’re interested, Yahtzee actually praised the game in a very entertaining review of his. He’s a bit more articulate on what makes this game so good.

Lastly, I will say this: Psychonauts is fifteen hours of gameplay, and I beat the entire thing in one weekend. And I wanted more. I would have gladly atrophied in front of it if it had been four times that length. I did not want this game to end. I have to admit that I don’t get that feeling from books quite as often as I would like. Even when I really, really love a book and end up recommending it to everyone I talk to, I’m usually not too torn up about it finishing it. With Psychonauts, I didn’t know what to do next.

Actually, now that I think about it, I can guess why that is. With books, I always know what I’m going to do next. There will always be more. I usually have my next one checked out well before finishing my current one. Psychonauts made me love gaming, but after I was done, there was nothing else to do. It took me about a day of doing absolutely nothing to get over it. In retrospect, this might have been what condemned The Alphabet Sisters.

I’m not going to become a rabid gamer. But seriously, if you’re going to play just one video game all the way through, let it be Psychonauts. For me.

This one I first heard about in an ad for Audible (distributor of audiobooks) that preceded an episode of The Moth, and the title so intrigued me that I actually managed to not forget it for the entire hour long car ride to Poland and then look it up. Then I put it on my list to check out later. I even checked my library’s online catalog to make sure they had it. Still, it’s been a couple of months.

This book is a (foodie) memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton about how she kind to accidentally became a cook and suddenly found herself opening a first-class restaurant in New York City. Her story, from the get-go, is completely fascinating. She had the sort of childhood that only exists in novels. Her mother was a very elegant French woman, and her father a very vague, outlandish gentleman. She grew up the youngest of five children in a very small town in Vermont, living in an old silk mill converted into a house. The mill rested on several acres of land through which the children ran barefoot all day, every day, when not at school. Several times a year, their father would through big, festive parties and lamb roasts and events. It was almost magical.

Then, when she was thirteen, out of nowhere, her parents split up. Somewhere in there, she and her older brother, Simon (fifteen), were temporarily forgotten about, and left to fend for themselves. Gabrielle fell into a bad crowd (in more than one way), and began taking waitressing jobs and lying about her age. She learned how to cook the food left in their house, and the vegetables that grew every year in the garden her mother had left behind. As she got older, she calmed herself down and started taking respectable jobs- more often than not landing in a kitchen.

And that’s how one begins. A few times, Gabrielle got tired of her place in the kitchen and started to travel. Somehow, she always ended up back where she started, slightly changed. She would go to strange places and try their foods, going after the experience of eating a slice of warm mozzarella and a baked potato in a Dutch bakery that sells drugs legally. Later, when she returned to New York, it was these feelings, from all over the world, that she longed to recreate in her restaurant. It actually reminded me of The Gourmet Rhapsody, in a way, as that book was like a concentrated look at all of the different, most memorable meal experiences he’d had in his life. I think that Gabrielle Hamilton would like The Gourmet Rhapsody.

Gabrielle did go on to open the five-star restaurant Prune. It’s so well known that if you type “prune” into Google, it will suggest “prune restaurant.” The website is worth a look.

She did also eventually get married (after several years as a lesbian) and have a couple of sons. At that point, the book became an exploration of family, love, and loneliness. Her marriage was unconventional at best, and she admits basically up front, and to her husband when he proposes, that she will probably never feel anything more for him than warm fondness. Much of the time, she can’t even muster that. It’s interesting to me that, though her home life was so unusual, she was still very capable of mothering her sons.

So, what I can say about this book: it is foodie, it is a very unusual story, the writing is good. It did drag a tiny bit at the end. But it was actually very readable, and I enjoyed it.

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Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Brigiiiiiid I’m in a phunk. I can’t finish a book. Why cant I finish a book? Also, why can’t I sleep? It’s 1:16am D:

    • I get into funks sometimes. Don’t force yourself to read books you’re not enjoying. Hey, it’s Monday- take my bike down to the library. They open at ten. Take out a book in my name, I don’t mind.

      I didn’t sleep well last night, either. Even in Julia’s bed. And now I’m sitting up, being awake, and I can’t keep my eyes open.


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