For years, Maggie Sheets has been an invisible hand in the glittering homes of wealthy New York City clients, scrubbing, dusting, mopping, and doing all she can to keep her head above water as a single mother. Everything changes when a former employer dies leaving Maggie a staggering inheritance. A house in Sag Harbor. The catch? It comes with an inhabitant: The deceased’s eighty-two-year old mother Edith.
Edith has Alzheimer’s—or so the doctors tell her—but she remembers exactly how her daughter Liza could light up a room, or bring dark clouds in her wake. And now Liza’s gone, by her own hand, and Edith has been left—like a chaise or strand of pearls—to a poorly dressed young woman with a toddler in tow.
Maggie and Edith are both certain this arrangement will be an utter disaster. But as summer days wane, a tenuous bond forms, and Edith, who feels the urgency of her diagnosis, shares a secret that she’s held close for five decades, launching Maggie on a mission that might just lead them each to what they are looking for.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 18, 2016)
The premise of Inheriting Edith is an interesting one, especially for anyone who has dealt with loss or seeing a parent in failing health. In this case, it's different because the parent in question, is "inherited" by a single mother with a toddler, along with a life-changing opportunity and a house in upscale Sag Harbor. The opportunity for Maggie to get her daughter out of the city, have time to spend with her and not have to worry about scrambling to get by is overwhelming, but not as overwhelming as being saddled with the house's occupant--Edith, an 82-year-old curmudgeon diagnosed with Alzheimers. For Edith, it seems like yet another betrayal by her daughter, a bi-polar writer with depression, who committed suicide. Does it sound depressing so far? Surprisingly, for a novel that touches on some very difficult subjects like Alzheimers, depression, and suicide, it manages to be poignant without being maudlin and to inspire humor and hope in with the heavy realities.
Maggie is an easy character to root for, although not always easy to understand. She has her own demons--a mother who had her own battles with depression and a father that she felt abandoned her quickly after her mother's death, remarrying and starting a new family. Being a single mother to Lucy, a precocious toddler, isn't easy and since she didn't tell Lucy's father about her, she is doing it on her own. Her friendship with Liza, an author and client of her housekeeping services has gone sour over a betrayal, so the fact that Liza leaves her an inheritance catches Maggie by surprise. The biggest part of that surprise is Edith, Liza's mother, who Maggie met only once and who didn't make a great impression. Edith is angry about a lot of things and having her house given to and taken over by Maggie and Lucy is only slightly better than the assisted living facility she will have to move into if Liza's plan doesn't work out. She is tougher to like, but easy to feel sympathy for as her disease progresses.
Adding levity to the situation is Esther, Edith's best friend who butts in to everything, dispensing advice, humor, and help and also Lucy, who is sweet but stubborn and definitely in that terrorizing toddler stage. These characters were my favorites. It was hard to get a handle on Sam, a potential love interest for Maggie and of course Liza, whose death brings these people together. And, as you can guess from the book's synopsis above, this group does come together and begins to form their own kind of family. There may be a few triggers in the book for anyone who has dealt with Alzheimers or dementia, the failing health of parents, and depression or suicide in their lives. A couple of parts made me a bit sad, but overall, Inheriting Edith is an engaging story about friendship, love, and family that touches the heart in a positive way. Although this is my first book from Zoe Fishman, it is unlikely to be my last.
Author Notes: Zoe Fishman is the author of Driving Lessons, Saving Ruth, and Balancing Acts. Her books have been translated into German, Italian, Dutch and Polish. She’s the recipient of many awards, including Target’s Breakout and Emerging Author Picks, a New York Post Pick, and has been featured on NBC’s “Atlanta & Co.” as well as in Publishers Weekly and The Huffington Post. She is currently at work on her next novel, as well as teaching writing at The Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. Zoe lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Find out more about Zoe at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.
There was actually a good amount of food mentioned in Inheriting Edith, although not all was particularly inspiring. There was Liza's snack of florescent orange peanut butter crackers and diet coke, leftover Danish and soggy pasta salad, Peruvian and Chinese restaurants, Challah bread, "gelatinous casseroles and lopsided cakes," whiskey, cheese, and crackers, the thought of "tiny strawberry jam hand prints" all over, and snacks for Lucy like Graham crackers, tiny goldfish crackers, bananas and red apples, coffee, dried smears of hummus, a block of cheddar and Ritz crackers, pre-made sandwiches, bialys, cookies, peanut butter and jelly, chicken cacciatore, hotdogs, burgers and French fries, a turkey and cheese sandwich, warm bread at a restaurant, an omelet, chocolate, a gyro, prosciutto and melon, crackers and hummus, cornichons and olives, fried chicken and coleslaw, potato salad and collard greens, a tiny loaf of cornbread and peach cobbler and ice cream. There was also a pretzel, lemon cake, scrambled eggs, Oreos, deviled eggs, mention of a party with a sushi station, champagne, bruschetta, and shrimp, waffles, scotch with ice tea, brandy, vermouth, and vodka with lemonade, hamburgers and onion rings, pancakes with syrup, pineapple slices, a seafood restaurant with lobster in butter, pizza, cake and ice cream, a bagel with cream cheese and donuts.
It was three different mentions of grilled cheese sandwiches that ended up catching my eye. It seemed to be a favorite for little Lucy--having it at home and at a restaurant with fries and Edith recalled an important phone call she got while making tomato soup and flipping a grilled cheese to go along with it. Grilled cheese, especially when paired with tomato soup, is the ultimate comfort food and something I am always in the mood for. Since I make it so often and just posted a pairing earlier this month, I wanted to change things up a bit.
Thinking of the party that Esther's daughter gives and Edith and Maggie attend, I thought it would be fun to make an appetizer version and put the cocktail in it by adding vodka to the soup. I love a good sushi station--which Esther says her daughter Barbie has, along with the band, catering, and an open bar--"the works"--but give me a glass or cup of hot, delicious tomato soup with a bit of vodka and some mini sandwich dunkers--oozing with melty cheese and that my friends is a party!
I am not the first to come up with tomato and vodka soup or grilled cheese croutons or mini sandwiches for parties, but below is my spin on it. I took one of my favorite quick tomato soup recipes and added a little kick from crushed red pepper and the vodka. For the sandwiches, I used little brioche rolls, with American and Munster cheese for the gooey factor, spread with butter, pressed in my Foreman grill, ends trimmed (samples for the chef) and cut in half. Although the vodka burns off in the making, leave it out of the soup for children and you have a great kids' party snack.
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 5 cups of soup total--about 10 1/2 cup servings)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped finely
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried basil
large pinch of crushed red pepper or to taste
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3/4 cup vodka
1 (28 oz) can or (750 g) box of chopped tomatoes with juices
1 cup veggie or chicken stock
1 cup coconut milk or heavy cream
sea salt and black pepper to taste
fresh basil to garnish, optional
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the onion and carrot and saute for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened. Add the garlic, dried basil, crushed red pepper, and tomato paste and cook another minute or two until spices are mixed in and releasing their fragrances. Add in the vodka, de-glazing the pan with it and allow it to reduce down for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and their juices and the stock. Heat until just at a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes to reduce and blend flavors. Using an immersion blender in the pan, or a regular blender (carefully in batches), puree soup until smooth. Return to pan and stir in the coconut milk or heavy cream. Gently heat through and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot in small, wide glasses or cups (for dipping room) with mini grilled cheese sandwiches for dunking. Enjoy!
Notes/Results: You just can't argue with tomato soup and grilled cheese--it is delicious comfort food whether served full-sized or in its miniature form. This one is no exception. The soup is creamy and full of flavor--with a little flavor kick from the red pepper and vodka that makes the simple and cheesy sandwiches perfect to dip in and enjoy and enjoying. I was going to use small shot glasses but I like the wider rims of these juice glasses for optimum dunking. You could also use coffee mugs or cups (you want about 1/2 cup of soup per serving), or make your sandwiches smaller. You can make the soup ahead of time and get the sandwiches built and ready to grill before a party, leaving you to just heat up the soup and toast the sandwiches right before serving. These were both delicious and fun, I will definitely make them again.
Because this dish is both soup and sandwich, I am linking it up to this week's Souper Sundays, hosted weekly here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on the current weekly post here--we would love to have you!
I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "Inheriting Edith" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.