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Seeking illumination in the City of Light

Rules for the Perpetual Diet

K.S.R. Burns

Today I am reviewing another book about a woman who goes to France to find herself – that makes three such books in the past month – is there something in the eau around here?

The previous books were memoirs, however, and “Rules for the Perpetual Diet” is a novel by Seattle author K.S.R. Burns.

The heroine in “Rules” is Amy, a wry and guarded young woman who finds herself plunging into a major existential crisis before the age of 30. Her best friend, Kat, has just succumbed to breast cancer. Amy’s engineer husband, William, is unable to give Amy the emotional support she needs. Or perhaps he’s unwilling – he never much liked Kat in the first place.

Now that she is out of the picture, William presses Amy to start a family with him. She fends him off, needing more time to grieve and to consider the road ahead. She had been laid off from her job at about the time Kat got sick, and had devoted much of her time to caring for her friend. Should she look for another job now? At one time she had had dreams of going to grad school, but after her whirlwind courtship and marriage to William four years ago they had used her savings to buy a house. Both of her parents have already died.

So far in life, almost everything that has happened to Amy has seemed to be out of her control. The one thing she does have command over is food. In her teens, Amy had been pudgy, but now she exercises steely control over her caloric intake. She abides by a list of 33 dieting rules she has compiled – guidelines that might make sense if practiced in moderation, but that strung all together make for a punitive lifestyle: “abstention is easier than moderation,” “go to bed a little bit hungry,” “put on something a little tight in the morning,” “never eat processed food,” “eschew the juice.”

But Amy’s relationship with food is even more complicated than that. Every night she fixes a gourmet meal for her husband, of which she partakes only a little. And then there’s the little matter of a secret storage locker where she stores cases of processed foods, just in case.

When it all becomes too much – the losses, the dependencies, the deprivation – Amy takes a long-planned leap into the unknown. She flies away to Paris, alone. It was a trip she and Kat had originally dreamed up as a way of celebrating together when Kat got a clean bill of health.

To avoid having to explain this to her husband, Amy goes while William is away on a business trip. But then when her adventure goes awry – in ways both good and bad – Amy ultimately has to rely on her own judgment.

This adventure is replete with delectable food, poignancy, humor, dark secrets and portents of illumination – which is as it should be for a story set in the City of Light.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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