• Lelia

Food Writers, Detectives and Soul Guides





I think of MFK Fisher as a food writer, but last night as I cozied up to Last House and a piece of pie (MFK Fisher would probably not approve of frozen pre-made chocolate pie from the grocery store) I had to push both the pie and the book away for a few moments as I digested her descriptions of her father’s “long masturbatory belches,” nose-picking and urine dampened feet.


My goodness (or, as she writes, “Jesus Christ in a handbasket”), her descriptions are graphic at times. The story of her “soul” coming out of her mouth and into her hand when she was a small child is fascinating and stomach-turning. She does not shy away from the physicality of the life of the body. I suppose that’s what makes her a great food writer.


MFK Fisher has incredible turns of phrase that reawaken you to the beautiful possibilities of language - the dog hoping for “crumbs of love and cookies.”


And the “love life of the intellect,” as she refers to her love affairs with book characters like Sherlock Holmes and Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and with historical figures - especially those with a passionate enjoyment of life like Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Sam Ward. The first literary character I remember falling in love with is Charles Bon in Absalom! Absalom! (I’m embarrassed now to admit this because I’ve only read Absalom! Absalom! once and don’t remember what it was about Charles Bon that triggered that warm, shy crush feeling.)


I find my own intellect seeks mentors more than lovers in detective fiction. Miss Silver is my favorite. She brings me a deep sense of safety, like the feeling of waking in the night and knowing Mary Poppins is your nanny, calmly reading in the lamplight across the room. V.I. Warshawski is another favorite with her almost pathological refusal to please and her drive to rock the boat. I spent a year or so with John Rebus as my guide to going your own way and I quite enjoy Nils Shapiro as a teacher of how to not mind ruffling feathers (while managing to be an exceptional lover).


I think our literary heroes can be guides to soul. I always say Miss Silver is a psychopomp, leading innocent girls through their descent into darkness and back up into the middle world again. V.I. Warshowski is always on her own descent. The tortures she endures are her own - the bodily harm, the dead friends and loved ones and the psychological wounds she faces down.


MFK Fisher found guides to enjoying the good life. She has Jupiter in Leo in the 5th house, so she was learning to walk like a joyful yet dignified queen in the house of pleasure and colorful expression. Bon vivants were good role models for her. I have Pluto in my fifth house and it’s the accidental ruler of my 6th house. The creative expression of the detective mentor archetype is guidance I need.