Kate Christensen's favorite food scenes in fiction

The prolific author recommends works by James Joyce, Edith Wharton, and more

Kate Christensen
(Image credit: Booklister)

Kate Christensen's new novel, The Last Cruise, is set on a 1950s luxury liner. Below, the author of How to Cook a Moose and the novels The Great Man and The Epicure's Lament names her favorite food scenes in fiction — and where to find them.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Dover, $5).

Lily Bart meets Lawrence Selden in Grand Central Station and goes to his apartment — "I can give you a cup of tea in no time — and you won't meet any bores." There's no real food — just cake and cigarettes. Lily never seems to eat. Somehow, for me, this most elemental self-denial lies at the heart of her tragic downfall.

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Ulysses by James Joyce (Dover, $16).

The grilled mutton-kidney breakfast has stayed with me ever since my first read (okay, not the whole thing): that sizzling, urine-scented tang of the frying organ and the deep pleasure Leopold took in it, pouring pan gravy over it, sopping bread in the browned-butter gravy, interspersing forkfuls of meat with mouthfuls of hot tea.

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee (Penguin, $17).

The Magistrate, made starving and homeless, begs maids for their scraps and watches a cook at work, breathing in "all the good smells, marjoram and yeast and crisp chopped onions and smoky mutton-fat." Yearning — humble and palpable and terrible — has rarely been expressed so sharply through food.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $17).

A plate of cold fried chicken and two bottles of ale sit on a table between Tom and Daisy Buchanan. In a novel filled with sumptuous parties, this fraught late scene stands out for its stark emotional nakedness. The untouched chicken and ale say everything somehow.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (Mariner, $14).

The disastrous picnic at the Marabar Caves, the elaborate spread Dr. Aziz has gone into debt to provide for his English friends — poignant, proud, kind Dr. Aziz, who will get accused of rape for his pains. "Whiskey-soda" for the gentlemen, rounds of tea and poached eggs for the ladies, because he's been told that the English never stop eating.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Bantam, $6).

Everyone loves the Try Pots Inn scene. I jones for a bowlful of the clam chowder every time I read the description: "Small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt."

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