“Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” -1 Peter 4:9-10
“Katherine Reay mixed together food and some of my favorite bits of Jane Austen to create an amazing, brain-tweaking FEAST!” –Janelle Leonard
We have a saying for church events: “It’s not about the food, it’s about the fellowship.” This train of thought chugs all the way through Lizzy & Jane—using food as a conduit to reach people, to understand them on a deeper level, and to open doors to addressing their spiritual needs. After all, food is a commonality between people—everyone needs to eat.
My First Reaction
I was ecstatic when I found out Katherine Reay was releasing her second novel—a story that involved two of my favorite things: Jane Austen and FOOD! I wanted to rush out and buy it right away . . . but here’s why I held back: Katherine’s first book Dear Mr. Knightley blew me away, and I wasn’t sure if Lizzy & Jane could compare. I’m always a bit hesitant to rush into an author’s second novel when I’m still thinking about their first.
(Read my review here: https://janelleleonard.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/jane-austen-inspired-approved/)
Usually, second novels never quite seem up to par. It’s similar to how I feel about Pride and Prejudice. I dearly love everything by Jane Austen, but P&P holds such a special place in my heart because it was the first book I ever read by her. None of her other novels have achieved that standard for me.
Well, I finally got my hands on a copy of Lizzy & Jane and Katherine Reay DID NOT let me down! Lizzy & Jane touched me and tweaked my brain just as much as Dear Mr. Knightley. While Dear Mr. Knightley challenged me to think about my worth and where to find my value: Lizzy & Jane challenged me to think about mercy, grace, REALLY listening, forgiveness, and how I’m using the gifts God has given me. I always joke that giving people food is my spiritual gift, but reading this story confirmed that hospitality and serving really is a special gift.
Lizzy and Jane are estranged, self-centered sisters who haven’t recovered from their mother’s death 13 years ago. Now that Jane has cancer, the sisters are forced to relive their mother’s battle. They’ve become good at running, hiding, and stuffing their true selves behind a mask of having everything together. They’re so used to doing things themselves, that they don’t know what it means to let someone help them.
Elizabeth (who actually hates being called Lizzy) is a NYC chef who has lost her ZING! Her restaurant “Feast,” got its name from her mother’s saying: “The FEAST is ready!” The things Lizzy was most passionate about were connected to her mother. To forget and run away from those memories, unknowingly, she’d built a concrete bunker, thrown in her zing and passion and locked the door.
“If the food is good, there’s no need to talk about the weather.” That was my mantra for years—food as meal and conversation, a total experience. (p.111)
What if, in fact, I really didn’t matter outside my cooking? Each day, I justified my life through purpose. (p. 257)
Her sister, Jane, a wife and a mother of two children, has been diagnosed with cancer. She’s been angry and bitter for so long that she’s pushed everyone away—even her husband, who loves her deeply, spending all his free time gathering information on cancer so he can really be there for Jane.
The story starts with a new chef being called in to help revitalize Feast. Lizzy feels like she’s been pushed out of her chef position, so she decides to leave NY and go to Seattle to stay with Jane for a week—which turns into almost four by the time this story is over. Spending time at chemo sessions with Jane, Lizzy relives her mother’s battle, makes some new friends, and rediscovers Jane Austen, and her first love: food. She also meets Nick, Jane’s coworker, who helps her start to get her “zing” back.
But it’s not until Lizzy stops, forgives, and really listens to those around her, that her passion for cooking—and for life—returns in full force. The sisters’ journey to healing starts with their stomach: Food brings them together, but they realize that it’s not just about the food. They learn to be honest, even about things that have bugged them for the last thirteen years. With everything out on the table, they are finally able to heal.
OH! Banter Love!
While this story is more about two sisters, there is some romance brewing and some great banter.
Nick and Lizzy’s first date (p,124):
I bounced down the stairs and opened the door.
“Wow.” Nick’s face lit up.
I beamed. “Can you do that again?” I shut the door and pulled it right back open.
“Wow.” He laughed.
“Yeah, that still felt good.”
Some Austen Spices
Pride & Prejudice: The obvious thing: their names. Their mother named them after her favorite Austen sisters: Elizabeth and Jane Bennet (Although, in their minds, they were more like Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood). Lots of pride, and living by the thought that “my good opinion once lost is lost forever.” No chance of mercy or forgiveness. No belief that someone could really and truly change their ways. No allowance for mistakes and mess-ups. There is a whole pound of prejudice as well. Lizzy has that NYC attitude, but she’s pleasantly surprised and touched when her assumptions are proved wrong
“I’ve been on both sides—afraid of where I am and where I’m going to finally feeling comfortable with the journey.” PREJUDICE about appearance—nurse that seemed rough was protecting, nurse that had the outside—clothes, hair, tattoos—heart sold to God and empathy for her patience because of her personal journey
“Have you through about changing?”
“I have. Life would be easier, but it was that kind of thinking that landed me in rehab in the first place. I’m not staging a coup or protesting the status quo, the government, my sweet folks in Nebraska, or small puppies. I just like it. I love hair so black it turns blue or purple in the light. I love that my arms record the experiences that have formed me. I love that when someone is hurt or aches, my look startles them past their defense mechanisms and they talk to me, listen to me—actually listen to me BECAUSE of this, not despite it.” (Cecilia: p. 199)
Emma: Themes of self-confidence, and an Emma-style journey of being brought from thinking you had everything together, to seeing who you truly are—and ending up stronger than you were at the beginning.
Mansfield Park: Nick portrays “Fanny Price” in this novel–putting others’ needs and preferences before himself. He goes out of his way for everyone, making sure Jane is comfortable, that Lizzy has what she needs, that his son Matt is happy.
“What do you recommend?” The waiter commences to share with them his favorites . . . Lizzy says: “What if you don’t like the other one?”
“Of course I will, and they were his favorites. When someone shares like that with you, you go along.” (P. 125)
Sense & Sensibility: Two sisters, struggling to find common ground, but keeping things from each other because they feel they’re protecting them. And like Eleanor and Marianne, Lizzy and Jane did have a bond, it just needed a little digging, and a large refining fire, to get to the diamond.
Persuasion: The letter. *sigh* Nick writes a letter to Lizzy that is very like the one Captain Wentworth wrote to Anne Elliot “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach . . . A word, a look, will be enough . . .”
Quotes & Lessons learned
Lizzy: “What if it doesn’t work?”
Cecilia: “It will because it’s a way to meet people’s needs, reach them through food—and not just anyone, but people who are vulnerable. It’s a gift and it’s all there—an unmet need, an untapped market in an affluent town.” (p. 133)
Cecilia: “You looked at Tyler and Jane’s totality. You’re creating more than a meal; you’re creating sustenance and meeting needs that are way beyond nutritional.” (p. 139)
Lizzy: “Dream building. I like that. I’m beginning to think that the best dreams need others to help build them.” (p. 204)
Letter to Lizzy from her mom: “You are a servant and a seeker of hearts, love and truth—a true chef. I’ve seen you mix together the very best that sustains us and offer it up with a piece of your soul on the side.” (p. 309)
Lizzy’s roommate: “Don’t go at everything alone just because that’s what you’ve always done. Dare to imagine something new.” (p. 312)
Closing Brain-tweaked Thoughts
Hospitality = “Love of Strangers.” It’s about providing a safe place to share—place for Jesus Christ to be seen. People are ultimately saved through the gospel message. But hospitably often creates natural opportunities for them to often times, see before they hear.
Am I using the gifts God has given me?
This story gets me curious about why people love the food they do. Is there something in their past that makes their food choices more relevant? Am I paying attention and asking them instead of assuming I know their preferences? And like Lizzy, I now find myself searching the novels I’m reading for food references.
THANK YOU Katherine Reay for sharing this journey and for teaching without preaching!
My heart has been truly BLESSED!