The Battle for Wine and Love, Parker Wins

BOOK REVIEW. 2008 by Alice Feiring. Harcourt.BattleForWineAndLove

After reading Alice Feiring’s book the first thing that comes to mind is that she is a journalist, not a writer. Basically what is an account of her own life and dislike of Robert Parker is “decorated” with half a dozen fictional characters that show very poor development. We never get to know enough of them as to justify their presence in the memoir, except as narrative clutches for a limping writer. She uses them when they are convenient to add body to an otherwise dilute section or sometimes are used as hinges to move from one scene to the next.

A big issue with this book is why, instead of writing a solid, serious book –given that she takes Parkerization in earnest- Feiring chooses to “spice it up” with her love life. Unfortunately for her, and for her readers, she fails in both accounts. For seven anodyne chapters Feiring prepares us for the narrative orgasm, her phone interview with Parker. To keep with the sexual metaphor, this would have been one of those occasions when after sex one thinks “I’ve had better”. The account of the interview feels manipulated, lopsided –in her favor- and shallow. One can only think “Robert Parker must be a retard”, which we know he is not. That is a trait to be found in other encounters she describes in her book, especially when she talks to wine people “from the dark side”. She always manages to convey a sense that she totally outsmarts them. However, in most cases –and if the exchanges are as she shows them- she fails to ask the tough questions, to press the weak points, sometimes because “I am shy” or because, as in the case of the phonterview with Parker, because she doesn’t want to ruin her shot at talking to him.

Feiring says very little about love. In fact, I don’t understand why she even uses the word love in the title of her piece. But we can summon a few strokes of what her love life may be like from the way she describes her encounters with men. She is not straightforward. She keeps a grudge but she won’t let it out in the open for discussion. She fails to show the other what she really knows and thinks of them. Who would like a lover like that? Not this man here, for sure. There is one line where she mentions that –during the second phone interview with Parker- she is wearing underwear (suggesting she was not on the first one) doesn’t come as sexy but it rather suggests that when she looks at a mirror, Feiring sees one hot babe. Eee-W! I thought when I read that line. Also, if this man is a person that Feiring dislikes so much, why the innuendo?

Another issue that I found annoying is the tone of the narrative. It is like it wants to be in Sex and the City style. The cloying, annoying, repetitive use of nicks, owl man, big joe, skinny, is over redolent of the super-popular TV show, but they belong there, not in a wine memoir which pretends, after all, to be serious. All in all, the book feels like Feiring couldn’t come up with a solid story line and figured that intertwining her wine stories with her love life was the patched-up solution. It obviously does not work.

In the positive side, she will wake up many people to the fact that wine is not as natural as they may think. That a lot of technology is used in winemaking, some of which may not be agreeable by all. She also gives good insight on the winemaking of Barolo, Rioja and the Rhone. Perhaps that is what Feiring should have used as a core for her book, rather than her insipid references to love and her obsession with Parker. It seems to me that in using the critic as a central theme, Feiring tried to get attention to a book, which without the constant reference to “the emperor of wine”, would have not merited major interest. And by the way, no, Feiring never saved the world from Parkerization. If at all, this attempt comes ten years too late to do anything about it.
To use Parker points, I score this book 81.


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