THE $64 TOMATO BY William Alexander
The Norrisville Book Discussion Group had a rollicking good time discussing the April 2007 selection, The $64 Tomato by William Alexander. Our resident (retired) Home Ec and Sex Education teacher provided the goodies this month: The famous “kiss me cake,” winner of the second ever Pillsbury bake-off. It seems that as the winner was preparing an orange cake, her husband came home in an amorous mood and distracted her from her project. With her mind on other things, she mixed the frosting in with the batter and created an instant classic.
Alexander’s more-or-less true account of his family’s move to a small town, and his subsequent obsession with creating the garden of his dreams is excruciating, instructive to the uninitiated, and laugh-aloud funny. Techie Alexander, his newly minted physician wife, and their two children move from Westchester County, New York to the perfect hamlet far from the madding crowd. Their new house, notorious in town for being dilapidated and uninhabitable, fails to smother their enthusiasm. But when the author sets out to wrestle a behemoth of a garden out of the untouched landscape, his neighbor Larry, his wife, and especially his two kids can only pity him. And even pity is difficult to muster, since Alexander willfully takes the wrong road at every fork-decision that he comes to. In fact, some readers will find his monumentally poor judgment a little irritating. Most of our group, however, appreciated the author’s self-deprecating tone and many disasters, not a few of which they themselves have experienced in the past. It felt good to see someone else get their lumps for a change, from unreliable and downright dishonest contractors to industrial strength weeds, to the shattering of the organic pipe dream, to the endless hours sucked up by this all-consuming hobby. Alexander’s story follows a path that is not entirely chronological and arrow-straight, which only seems to emphasize the atmosphere of out-of-control living described in the book. Yet our group never gave up wanting to know how it would all turn out, hoping for at least a partial victory over nature and human nature.