Some books challenge you. Others feel like cozy sweaters. It’s rare to find a book that does both. And that’s exactly what Isabel Vincent’s latest memoir, Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship (Algonquin Books, May 24, 2016) manages to do, by striking the perfect balance between being bittersweet and making you so damn hungry.
Vincent, an investigative journalist for the New York Post, tells the story of her friendship with the 93-year-old father of one of her best friends (who lived out of the country at the time). Edward’s wife of 69 years passes away, and he’s ready to give up on life; Vincent, still reeling from a crumbling marriage, agrees to check up on him once and a while. What begins as occasional dinners meant to keep an old man company soon develops into a rich friendship that gives both Edward and Vincent reasons to reconsider why they’re alive.
It’s refreshing to read a memoir that’s written with a deep and prevailing sense of completely sincere love. Vincent paints Edward as a romantic, beautiful man with a heart big enough to love almost everyone he meets, who still feels the acute pain of the sudden emptiness brought about by the death of his wife. The more Vincent learns about his almost storybook relationship with his late wife, Paula, the more she begins to heal internally as she grapples with the heartaches of divorce. As Vincent writes, “I believed in the magic of Edward,” and readers begin to believe, too.
It doesn’t hurt that Vincent provides the perfect setting for Edward to dole out his nuggets of wisdom: the kitchen and dinner table. Vincent draws the comparison between her memories of her own mother and the feelings of protection and well-being that Edward evokes in her, mainly through the device of her veneration for good food. Every chapter title is a small dinner menu –- and Vincent goes out of her way to punctuate her conversations with luscious descriptions of these meals. Between melting Gruyere cheese, meaty entrees and fine wines, it seems entirely easy to succumb to the enduring and cheeky optimism of an old man determined to live exactly the way he wants.
Dinner with Edward is ultimately a book about different types of love –- romantic, friendship, parental -– and the titular character gives Vincent and her readers a sense of what true love really looks and feels like. Edward’s stories about his marriage to Paula seems to inform almost every past and present relationship in Vincent’s life -– and by extension, the readers’ lives. It’s difficult to read about someone so filled with love and compassion without taking a long hard look at the people in your own life.
Throughout this memoir, Vincent imbues her language with an overriding sense of gratitude for Edward, both for his happiness and for his existence. You’ll feel the same sort of thankful at the end of this book. You might also be inspired to cook a creative and delicious meal, but it’ll be difficult to feel satisfied unless you’re sharing it with someone special.