Erin French details how she reached success in her upcoming memoir Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch. (Available early April 2021.) It’s not a straight A to Z path, but one that goes backwards, forwards, and even sideways. Of course, everyone’s definition of success is also different.
Many cooks or chefs would define success as working in a high-end kitchen under a renowned chef. Or owning their own restaurant in a major metro area, with reservations booked months in advance. Maybe even celebrity status. French chooses none of these options, yet her life and career do indeed come around to happiness and resounding success.
French is the older of two daughters, born to a special ed teacher and the owner of a small-town Maine diner. Her mom is generally a doormat, in deference to her husband’s strong personality and behaviors of addiction. Erin inherits a portion of her personality from each. She doubts herself and ends up the doormat in her own marriage. Alongside these qualities, she has inner strength to succeed despite her missteps. And in the process, she also struggles with her own addictions.
All French wants to do as a teen is escape the diner’s kitchen, attend college in Boston, and become a physician. But as most adults will tell you, life isn’t often so straightforward. She gets pregnant unexpectedly, keeps the baby, and moves back to her parents’ house. Even though she returns to the familiar, nothing is quite the same. Even as she puts one dream aside, French envisions a stable and satisfying life for herself and her son. It just takes a lot of dance steps.
What makes Finding Freedom a meaningful memoir is French’s voice, which is honest and self-effacing. Her truths and experiences are well told. But many parts of the story were painful to read because I wanted life to be easier for her. One thing that elevates the story is her off-the-charts mouthwatering descriptions of the food she cooks. French also balances her insecurities with inspirational grit and determination.
I know that memoir authors have 20/20 hindsight about their lives and the characters in them. But I was profoundly frustrated by French’s choice in love. For a kid who grew up as she did, she was dangerously naïve about this controlling and abusive man. I did a lot of shouting at the book while reading these passages!
As an aside, I want French’s mom to write a memoir next. Even though I refer above to her as a doormat, she undergoes a compelling transformation like her daughter. As a mom, her story inspired me too. She fights alongside French for a new life and steps up to help her daughter raise a child as a single mom.
If you like memoirs about overcoming adversity, creating amazing food, or the challenges of single motherhood and entrepreneurship, Finding Freedom is for you. I was captivated and couldn’t put it down.
Pair with Hollywood Park for a memoir from another creative soul, this time from a male perspective. Or try Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs for a memoir written with a clear voice and unique challenges.
Many thanks to Celadon Books and the author for an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.