by Kathryn Borel

Grand Central Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-0-446-40950-6.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 04/06/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir

"The wine to end all wine trips," proclaims the front cover of Corked. Katherine Borel hoped that this comprehensive father-daughter tour of French wineries would bridge the gap she felt between her father and herself, though I was never clear on exactly what she hoped for from him—was it acknowledgment? Support? Recognition? She acknowledges her neediness on nearly every page. What did she hope to learn? That insight was also elusive.

I had hoped to learn something about wine and how to judge and appreciate it. I did find a few pieces of possibly accurate trivia (for example: all wine in Burgundy is pinot noir). I'd also looked forward to lyrical descriptions of French scenery. I did read about light that inspired Van Gogh, twisted and wild vines growing on impossibly steep slopes in the Côte Rôtie, and drab stone houses.

Most of the memoir bounces between Kathryn's existential angst around her father's impending death—her sixty-year-old and apparently healthy father—and her obsessive attempt to come to grips with the shabby way she had handled breaking up with Matthew, a man who loved her, but whom she could not love in return. Those elements combine with flashbacks of terror linked to the freak accident she had two or three years earlier when an elderly man stepped in front of her moving car and subsequently died of the impact, and rage at her father's humiliating public fireworks when service does not meet his exacting standards. All these elements simmer in a sauce of underlying depression.

Occasional flashes pierce this gloom. These include irreverent insights into her own character, humorous repartee with her father, who is given to off-the-wall remarks and stories, and banter with a couple of vineyard owners.

As she continued obsessing about Matthew, wishing she could have loved him, I realized I was having a similar problem with the book. I knew she loved me, the reader, and I wanted to love her back, perhaps in spite of her brutally honest self-disclosure, which seemingly left no psychic stone unturned. Perhaps in spite of her loyalty to her pain-in-the-posterior father. Definitely for the craft she displays in her writing.

But I felt as she did about Matthew—guilty for not fully connecting. I puzzled over the story, trying to discern the cause. Was it the frequent crude content? The similarity to a reality show? Did her obsessive navel-gazing drag on too long? Did the story stay too much in her head? Was it too unfocused? I was as unable to pinpoint a reason as she had been regarding her estrangement from Matthew. And just as she was unable to make a clean break with Matthew, I was unable to put the book down without finishing it. That was only partly because I was reading a complimentary review copy. I was bizarrely compelled to learn whether she ever got out of her slough of despond.

When I closed the book, a lingering question remained: the significance of the title, Corked. Oenophiles use this term to describe, a bottle of wine gone bad. My hunch is that it also refers to the trip.

Kathryn Borel was born in 1979 in Toronto, the daughter of a hotelier. She spent her early years living in hotels in Paris, Bermuda, Dallas, and New Jersey, finally settling in Quebec city. In 2002 she moved back to Toronto, where she works at the Canadian Broadcasting company for the national arts and culture program, "Q." She has written food and wine reviews for radio and print. Her journalism includes a column that ran in the National Post under the title "Indignities." Corked is her first book.

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