While not autobiographical in the strictest sense,Bread Alone is an intensely personal novel, which grew out of my experience working at the McGraw Street Bakery, a small neighborhood bakery located on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. In 1988 when I worked there, it was owned by two women—Nancy Mattheiss and Jessica Reissman—and all the employees were women, with the exception of a fifteen-year-old boy who showed up from time to time as the spirit moved him, to wash dishes.
We had earth mothers and hippie chicks. We had one or two troubled teens. We had a struggling watercolorist, we had a woman trying to leave an abusive husband, we had gay women just coming out. We had pets dying and children in crisis. Besides that, and in all modesty, we had some of the best baked goods in Seattle.
Everyone has them—those interludes that reverberate seemingly forever after in your life. They exert a kind of magic, almost a gravitational pull on you. You keep revisiting them and reliving them in your mind. They assume a significance all out of proportion to their actual duration. For me, working at the bakery was like that. I never forgot the place or the women I worked with or the great stuff we made. Other than writing, it was the only job I’ve ever had where I felt absolutely free and totally myself, and I guess it sort of percolated down through my unconscious in the intervening years.
Because eight years later, I sat down to write a memoir about it, and instead, a novel came out.