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Cooking for Harry
Reading Group Guide
Harry became a fabulous cook. It began with a simple indulgence: secret bowls of buttery popcorn that he and his wife, Francie, would share after the children were tucked into bed. The aroma of melting butter, the hot kernels on their tongues, the salt crystals sticking to their lips—it was their own private romantic feast, imbuing their marriage with a new kind of passion. Soon, Harry began to dazzle Francie with luscious bisques and brioches, delectable soufflés, rich risottos, and classic versions of coq au vin that left her breathless.
Their family life came to revolve around the dinner table, where each night Harry’s cooking brought Francie and their four children together for an awe-inspiring and mouthwatering meal. But inevitably the years slip by, and when all but one child has left the house, Harry wins a digital scale in his company’s Holiday Raffle and their happy bubble bursts in a single instant. Harry’s cooking has finally caught up with him. His doctor confirms it: He desperately needs to lose weight.
Terrified of losing him, Francie puts Harry on a strict diet, leaving him eternally frustrated at the table and in the kitchen. When they both realize that he has to take a break from his culinary passions if this diet is to work, Francie begins to cook. Eventually a younger-looking, leaner, and more driven Harry emerges—one so newly committed to his job and his low-carb support group that not only is he no longer in the kitchen, he’s hardly ever at home. Feeling confused by the dynamics of their new relationship, Francie must contend with her need to keep Harry on his diet, and also with the women who have suddenly begun to eye her truly attractive husband. The question now becomes: Will love be enough to keep this marriage together, or will the Atkins Diet ultimately tear Harry and Francie apart?
Pop a pan of cookies into the oven and put up your feet. Cooking for Harry is a deliciously good time.
From the Hardcover edition.
1. What do you think about Harry’s cooking—and eating? What role does it play in his life? In his marriage? When did it become an issue?
2. Why doesn’t Francie really notice or object to Harry’s slow, constant weight gain? What does she have to gain by ignoring it? What does she stand to lose by addressing the ever-growing problem?
3. How is Harry’s cooking and eating a family concern? What
roles do the various family members play in his weight gain and
weight loss (consider the children’s nicknames)? How does the
family contribute to the problem and its solution? Do you think
this family is dysfunctional?
4. Why does it take a talking scale to tell Harry the truth?
5. How does Harry’s community—his neighbors and associates—
react to his diet? If you have ever dieted, do you find their responses
to his dieting typical? Why are friends not always the most supportive people when it comes to dieting and other significant habit changes?
6. Eating is one of life’s great pleasures. When does it go from
being a pleasure to being a problem? When, if ever, is some kind
of intervention appropriate? In your own experience, does intervention
7. Harry’s diet, with its gym regimen and support groups, takes
up a lot of his time and, it seems, starts making him into a
new, improved person. Why doesn’t this lead straight to happiness?
When and how does this start to be a problem for
8. What does Francie’s high school relationship with Lisa tell us
about Francie? What emotions and assumptions from this old
relationship have lingered in Francie and affect how she looks
at life in middle age?
9. “People change,” Francie says, then admits that she hasn’t.
How has dieting changed Harry in unexpected ways? How does
Francie have to change?
10. Discuss Kay-Marie James’s use of images and symbols: the
scale, a storebought cake, a borrowed handkerchief, a white
sofa. What stories do these objects tell?
11. How is adultery handled in this book? Lightly? Forgivingly?
Believably? Can adultery ever be good for a marriage?
12. What do you think of Francie going on her anniversary
cruise with Tommy Choi? Was it fair play? Too risky? In what
way was the storm “perfect”?
13. Malva, the neighbor, says, “There are two hundred sides to
every story. . . . But all of them end the same. Somebody has to
apologize.” Who should apologize for what in this novel?
14. What factors ultimately save Francie and Harry’s marriage?
15. Why do you suppose the author wrote Cooking for Harry
under a pseudonym? Do you have any idea which bestselling
New York Times author wrote this book? How can you support
16. How dietetic is this novel? Did it inspire you to go on or stay
on a diet—or did it make you hungry for a big, beautiful bowl
of buttered, salty popcorn?
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