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Love in the Time of Cholesterol: A Memoir with Recipes

by Cecily Ross

There is a jarring honesty to this memoir of a couple’s struggle with heart disease. Laid bare are the details of quadruple bypass surgery: pumps and fluids, depression and blood pressure. Cecily Ross – an editor with The Globe and Mail whose husband, Basil Guinane, is the book’s “patient” – takes long, pragmatic looks into bleak circumstances, and draws equally lengthy (and unabashedly earnest) portraits of hope.

With an alternately critical and poetic voice, Ross recounts the years surrounding Basil’s heart surgery. Included are (mostly) heart-friendly recipes, which conclude each of the book’s chapters and focus the narrative on the gastronomic aspects of the journey.

Ross includes weighty details of illness and recovery, chronicling both physical and emotional hurdles and offering information on medical trends and emerging therapies – an element that may be useful to families in similar situations. She also unflinchingly records the budding and blooming of love between herself and Basil – from its first moments to the challenge of forming a life together in uncertain times. In the first half of the book, this close narration is effective in laying out the stakes and telling the story of the disease and surgery. In the later chapters, however, the story loses pace as Ross takes the reader on a winding tour of the years following the operation, detailing vacations to New York and Spain, horseback riding, and adventures with new therapies like guided meditation.

The author’s skill as a journalist and storyteller shines in the book’s more colourful passages. Her descriptions of outdoor life add sparkle to several chapters. As do the book’s recipes. Though their organization is debatable, their inclusion adds to the “foodie” sensibility of Ross’s voice. Eating takes pride of place in her narrative, as she avidly chronicles every morsel, from family feast to hospital sandwich.

The memoir ends gently. As Ross takes stock, thankful for what’s still to come, she also situates her own role (and the role of wives in similar situations) as guardian of health and arbiter of masculine over-zealousness. However pragmatic this epiphany about marriage roles may be, readers looking for a more dynamic resolution may be left disappointed.