Julia Child and Avis DeVoto became pen pals after Avis responded to Julia’s present of a French knife in response to Bernard DeVoto’s column on the subject. Julia Child was not famous at the time, but an aspiring cook book author, and Avis was, as she would always be, the great supporter of those around her in Boston and beyond. Julia Child was quite an adventurous sort, which I think came across even as she cooked on TV. She was also quite a bit more intelligent and interesting than her public image (“Save the liver!”) would suggest. The big surprise of this epistolary book, however, is not Julia but Avis. Avis was a grand facilitator, a truly passionate supporter of other people’s artistic ability, and editor, a keeper of the house, a parent, a cook, and a woman who had to persevere on her own following the sudden death of her husband. She is given credit for finding a publishing home for Julia’s book, but seeing the process in detail really emphasizes what an outstanding person Avis really was.
There’s a lot of food, a lot of politics, and a lot of goings on; they were every bit as busy as we say we are today, and every bit as interesting. Joan Reardon does a great job editing these letters into an intimate portrait of two buoyant lives.