DISCLAIMER – Read this book only if you are a mother or a husband/father who understands his wife/daughter who is a mother.
Being a reader and a book hoarder, there are times when you buy books in bulk and never get around to reading them. They stay lost in the pile or in the pages deep in the kindle. But one fine day, it dawns on you to look under the top shelf/page and explore your collection. Sometimes, you find something, and sometimes, you don’t. When you do find a book that you think will not interest you as much but still start reading it and eventually, you realize that probably it is the only book that has resonated with you in a long long time, you are overwhelmed.
The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan is the story of Lila Soto, a former high flying career woman, wife of the city’s Mr. Food, Sam Soto, and mother to Hazel and Henry. We follow our protagonist as she narrates a year of her life to us.
Lila is lonely. And heavily pregnant. Now overdue, she finds herself still adjusting in her new neighborhood, partly because Sam’s job requires him to stay anonymous and partly because Lila misses her life from her previous city. Like everyone else, Lila understands what she had and what she has now, but what she doesn’t get is her husband’s paranoia about coming out in the open. Sam, you see is a restaurant critic. He has food from restaurants all over the city and rates them, and his words hold value. So it is a prerequisite for a person like him to remain in the shadows and voice out a fair judgment. To add to her woes, Lila runs into her former boss who sows the seeds of getting back to work in her mind.
With Sam’s constraints on Lila’s movements and Lila having to go over the 4th trimester of pregnancy for the second time, she finds herself looking for companionship in a waiter, her former batchmate, and an unlikely ex.
How much longer can Lila survive? What effect will her decisions have on her marriage?
Some books, you love and some books you hate. Then there comes a category which falls under neither. You love it and hate it. This is one such book. I loved it. And I hated it even more. Why? Because nothing ever has felt so perfect yet so disturbing. Confusing, huh? Let me start from the beginning then.
So, you are a young graduate full of dreams of a successful career. You work hard, rise up the ladder, and live a life that others envy. Next, you see yourself falling in love, getting married, and having kids. All this while, your high flying career woman role has taken a backseat in the car tethered to yours and in the opposite direction. Now, circumstances demand that you drive your car but the other car doesn’t allow you to move an inch despite your best efforts. What happens? Either you get down, untether and then drive, or you drive with all the might and hope for the best to avoid an accident. Plus, a lot also depends on your partner, whether he’s willing to look after the car when you step out or is he’s willing to take the risk of the imminent accident. As a mother to a toddler, I am pretty much in the same situation right now. Therefore, love-hate.
The title is an irony. A woman is much more than just somebody’s wife or mother. What begins as a story of a woman giving in to her husband’s demands of living her life on his terms ends up being a story of a woman re-finding her identity after years of being domesticated. Lila’s character is built superbly, and so are the others who come and go as the plot demands. Her relationships are defined but they don’t have borders. Sam is the typical husband, engrossed in his work and not looking up until the coffin is being lowered but knowing how to revive the dead. Her mental turmoil was so easy to relate to. Although what I felt missing in this story was the physical struggles of the new mother. It came so easy to Lila that one might feel postpartum is easy AF and what’s all the fuss about! Trust me, it’s not. If childbirth was bone killing difficult, motherhood is the next level. Lila and I, both understand this. And so do mothers all across the globe. This in no way means we don’t love what we have created, a little human drooling and latching onto our breasts all the time. The cover is beautiful (Go on, take a look) It takes talent to balance work and life with kids.
We may seem different, and appear to have our shit together, but the truth is underneath, we are all the same. Lonely. Demotivated. Guilty. Desperate. Battling postpartum depression with all our might and not letting anyone know of it. Lila’s life was mine. Her year was mine. Her failure was mine. And her success was mine.