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Book Review–Taste: My Life Through Food

By Stanley Tucci

New York: Simon and Schuster (Gallery Books), 2021. 291 pp.

Reviewed by D. Margaret Hoffman

I am a big fan of Stanley Tucci, so when I had the chance to buy a signed first edition of his memoir, I jumped at it. I am naturally suspect of celebrity memoirs, though, because a lot of them just aren’t very good. So, while I liked having this on my shelf, I doubted that I would actually read it. One day, though, Taste caught my eye, my curiosity got the better of me and I started to read.

I had lots of different thoughts as the pages turned.

The first chapters—the ones about growing up—are subdued, measured, careful. Respectful of roots and parents and a childhood well-lived. I had trouble then (and throughout, actually) finding a clear structure. So, while I enjoyed reading about growing up Tucci and the genesis of Tooch’s deep affection for both his mother and her cooking, for me the narrative here is stilted and struggles to find its way. The details bounce around without following a clear thread—besides food, that is.

As the book progresses, the movement seems chronological, though loosely so. I enjoyed learning the details of Tucci’s young life and his development as an actor as they connect to his love of cooking, eating and finding good food. That forms the nexus of the book and, no matter how disjointed the text becomes within and between chapters, it is the importance and existence of good food in Tucci’s life that keeps everything from flying off the edge of the spinning dinner table—but just barely.

As Tucci matures and spends more time on his own, the narrative loosens up and the memoir begins to do what memoirs are meant to do—reveal the personality of the writer. Guarded childhood details don’t allow for much insight, but descriptions of the life and times of the adult Tooch allow the real voice to come through at last.

Here the book finally opens up. It is not just the details, but the telling of them— syntax, word choices, artistic elements—that decide whether the real person will be hidden behind the facts or revealed through or even in spite of them. In the second half of Taste, Tucci displays his more playful, comical, even goofy side which I knew had to be there somewhere and was glad to see finally finding an outlet. There are even some pretentious moments where we spend much too much time learning about Tooch’s outdoor cooking appliances, pizza ovens, rotisserie for pigs and all the other cringeworthy culinary accoutrements of rich people. All necessary pieces of the Tucci puzzle.

By the end, through Tucci’s descriptions of his bout with an oral cancer that robbed him, for a while, of his ability to enjoy or even eat the food he loved, we experience a clarity, a seriousness, a terror, an irony that we needed all that came before to appreciate. That this man—after all he revealed to us about his life being defined by the food he ate and loved and prepared lovingly for those he loved—should be denied this outlet, of all things, and that he should take us there with him without sentimentality, is the heart and soul and strength of this book—and worth every word it took to get here.

I am a fan of Stanley Tucci. But now I feel as though I am also a friend. And that is what good memoirs do.

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