My Kitchen Wars - Betty Fussell We're all familiar with Paul Fussell, whose works about war and its effect on culture and vice versa are seminal. Betty Fussell provides an intimate look at a different kind of war: spousal. This is the story of her journey to independence and self-fulfillment.

She and Paul came from different sides of the track. His life was much more privileged, but she hungered for the same knowledge of literature. The kitchen -- she was to become a famous cook and writer -- held a morbid attraction to her. Forbidden to use the pressure cooker, it became an Olympic hurdle to conquer, and danger was part of the attraction, even as a friend of hers was killed years later when the stove blew up as she went to make breakfast "turning her into a cinder."

Many returning vets went to college under the GI Bill and then returned to campus as professors. Europe had provided a cosmopolitan atmosphere lacking in the States, and many made annual trips to Europe (as did my father) under the aegis of the Fulbright program. The Fussells must have been at Heidelberg about the same time as my family, the early to mid-fifties, and you learned, as did I in German public school, that for the Germans, WW II was not the "good" war. Audiences in movies had moments of silence to honor those who had fallen for the Vaterland -- I still cringe every time I hear the words "Homeland Security" -- and all Americans had to be members of the military.

The book is almost Cheeveresque in its description of faculty life at Princeton during the late fifties: stay-at-home wives, a sort of female Arbeit Macht Frei concept, husbands who drank themselves under the table, affairs fueled by post-war European attitude shifts. Betty began to find her metier in the kitchen as a party host where food had evolved from a pre-sexual morsel to an element of power. "Parties were no longer the pretext for sex, and sex no longer the subtext of food. . . cooking had become a magnificent obsession." They move into a larger house with a spectacularly functional professional kitchen, and the first shots of the wars to follow began as Paul and Betty began to compete in the same realm.

This is probably not a book vegans or vegetarians would enjoy because it's a real celebration of food. She reveres the French attitude, where farmers and cooks brag about the "perfect chicken."` One old farmer described how "his wife caponized the birds the way the Romans had and lovingly force-fed them a paste of corn and milk in their Death Row days. . . . Who but the French would make a chicken a love object, would caress it with the passion of a lover for his beloved or a communicant for his God, would turn it into a work of art that, no matter how crowned with laurel, must be eaten to be experienced."

The end of her relationship with Paul began with her desire to earn a Ph.D. in English so she could teach full-time. Whether it was competition or envy or no longer being the honored one, Paul had difficulty appreciating that his wife had given years of her time . "I found I could no longer stomach academic gamesmanship, in which anger was disguised as argument, The underlying aggression was too palpable, the need to dominate too naked too ignore." The final straw was when she discovered Paul and a male student in flagrante delicto the early morning following a party for his Teacher of the Year Award ceremony to be awarded the following day. It became impossible to "make bisque out of the carcass of their marriage." When finally they decided to tell the children, Paul took each to lunch and bluntly revealed he was a pederast and their mother an adulteress. After an endless separation and parting, Betty learns to love her independence and aloneness."

She does have a way with words: "The kitchen mediates between power and submission and love and hate. It's the place where, if we but have eyes to see, we can see the miraculous in the ordinary--one can see each day water turned into wine, wine into vinegar, flour into bread, milk into butter, butter into cheese, loaves and fishes into food for multitudes... To eat and be eaten is a consummation devoutly to be wished in a universe that is all mouth, where black holes have a prodigious appetite for stars and neutrinos are always changing flavors. Small wonder that we humans have but one orifice for food, speech and love."