A Recipe for Disaster and Other Unlikely Tales of Love reads exceptionally well because Fantetti writes so well. It’s a satisfying and warmhearted book about the colder side of love. Its stories are offbeat, human, and very relatable. This collection certainly deserves its place on the 2014 Danuta Gleed Award shortlist — which rewards a best first book of short fiction by a Canadian author.
The cover is a play off the title story. “A Recipe for Disaster” starts with a culinary themed recipe as a prologue: “Meet someone you are 1/4 compatible with. Base this compatibility 1/2 on the fact you are carbon-based life forms and 1/2 on your sad pasts.”
The “disaster” of the story’s title is the act of falling in love. The hilarious, human story that ensues has frequent page breaks with italicized recipe-like instructions for navigating a relationship as the relationship progresses, such as “knead high expectations into the mix. Repeat this several times,” or, “Grate in a fear of commitment and a pinch of abandonment issues.” What follows is a stylistically rich story detailing the union of a new couple, Adam and Eve, atheists the two of them. The story is very funny, very innovative, and very well written.
In “Sweets,” a likeable, precocial kid endures a mother who doesn’t want her. “She would like to put me in a magician’s box and make me disappear, without the coming back part, without the part where the audience claps and is happy to see you again.” The child narrator’s voice and humour, and her unbroken spirit, spare the story from being needlessly maudlin and cliché. The cops have been called to her home. Telling you why would be a spoiler. But it involves Randy, the deadbeat boyfriend of her shitty mother, who at least treats the kids better than the mother.
“Sweets” is a story of an abused child, we’ve all read that, like how “Recipe for Disaster” was a story about a relationship arc. But Fantetti is able to reframe these stories so they’re fresh and interesting in their delivery. Thanks to the serious strength in her style, voice, and characterization, if every story has already been told, then Fantetti has found a way to retell them so they’re still a great read.
“Punch Drunk” tackles the single parent relationship between a boxing-mad dad and his not-so-into boxing son. The father acknowledges how the “world is a dangerous place for a boy without a mother.” He’s a bit of a brokenhearted man since the divorce, and the one time the narrator saw him come somewhat alive was the one and only time he angered his father to the point of his father punching him. “All of his grief contained in a single punch … After that I gave him plenty of opportunities to flex his anger, to see him come alive, to witness his fighting spirit … I picked fights with everyone, came home drunk, yelled obscenities at the top of my lungs.” It’s only after the son meets a mesmerizing woman that he understands what his father has been missing out on. And this woman actively becomes the bridge that reconnects father and son.
In every story, there’s a really great use of telling traits that make her character development a strong component of the collection’s charm and readability. You want to root for these oddball characters.