Published by: Chien Bleu Press
Release Date: August 1, 2015
In Wyn Morrison’s world a 5 AM phone call is rarely good news. It usually means equipment trouble at her bakery or a first shift employee calling in sick—something annoying but mundane, fixable. But the news she receives on a warm July morning is anything but mundane. Or fixable.
Mac, her ex-husband, is dead.
He’s not just in a different house with another woman, but actually, physically gone and the news ignites a firestorm of memories and regrets. Ineligible for widowhood, Wyn is nonetheless shaken to her core as she discovers that the fact of divorce offers no immunity from grief.
As Mac’s executor, she is now faced with sorting his possessions, selling his house and trying to help his daughter Skye deal with financial and legal aspects of her inheritance–a task made more difficult by Skye’s grief, anger and resentment.
Ironically, just when Wyn needs support most, everyone she’s closest to is otherwise occupied. Her mother and stepfather have moved to Northern California, her best friend CM has finally married the love of her life and is commuting to New York, and her protégé Tyler is busy managing the bakery and dealing with her first serious love affair. They’re all sympathetic, but bewildered by her spiral into sadness. After all, it’s been three years since the divorce.
Once again the bakery becomes her center as she places herself back in the bread rotation. In the cool, gray light just before dawn, enveloped by the familiar smells of wheat and yeast and coffee, the hypnotic rhythms of Bach, the radiant warmth of the ovens, the borderline softens, becomes a permeable membrane letting her pass freely between past and present. She might be Jean-Marc’s apprentice at the Boulangerie du Pont, washing bowls and pans, shaping clumsy beginner’s loaves and learning to make levain. Or working nights at the Queen Street Bakery in Seattle with the ever-obnoxious Linda, teaching Tyler to bake, experimenting with different flours and techniques, testing, searching for the ultimate loaf of bread.
Now she will sift through her memories of Mac and their life together, eventually coming to terms with who he was and why, with Skye and her anger, and with Alex, who was once more than a friend. Soon she will re-learn the lessons of bread that she first discovered at the Queen Street Bakery in Seattle… that bread is a process–slow, arduous, messy, mysterious–and should be eaten with the eyes closed and the heart open…
“Women-in-transition novels make up a large part of contemporary mainstream fiction, and Judith Ryan Hendricks is one of the quiet stars of the genre…”
—Pasatiempo (The Santa Fe New Mexican)
“Readers will be thrilled to catch up with Hendricks’s beloved characters from the bestselling Bread Alone and The Baker’s Apprentice. Baker’s Blues is Hendricks at her finest, taking on life’s thorniest issues and handling them with grace, aplomb and the utmost skill. This book will move her into the larger readership she so richly deserves…”
—Jo-Ann Mapson, LA Times bestselling author of Owen’s Daughter
You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway… Baker’s Blues is different.
Consider the title. Baker’s Blues is not a warm fuzzy title because…well, blues. The cover image is a woman kneading dough…she looks strong. She’s working hard. She seems to be alone. Maybe she’s single. Or wishes she was. Maybe she’s married but her husband is gone a lot. Or they’re having problems. Or maybe she’s just working an early shift.
Baker’s Blues is the last installment in the Bread Alone trilogy. (Spoiler alert) I’ve never been the kind of writer who feels compelled to tie up all the loose ends. After all, lives are complicated and messy and have no neat endings, so why should a story based on those lives be any different? On the other hand, there has to be a certain resolution at the stopping point. So, since about 1995, when the whole three-part story was starting to take shape in my head, I’ve had a pretty clear idea where it was going and how I was going to leave it.
Sometimes when I go back and read my own books, they seem to have been written by someone else. This was not the case last year when I re-read both Bread Alone and The Baker’s Apprentice after finishing a rewrite of Baker’s Blues. This whole project has been kind of like designing and building a home. Now, it’s finished. Suddenly I can see lights on inside, people moving through the rooms. It’s an incredible feeling of completion, fulfillment.
After basking in that glow for a few minutes, I begin to think about all the readers who’ve written and emailed and posted on my blog, wanting to know when the next book would be out. Some were more specific. When would the next Bread Alone book be out?
Readers want the story to continue, which is a good thing…the catch is, each person envisions a different direction. With a series, there’s always that risk of disappointment. Suddenly I’m wondering if readers who liked the first two will like Baker’s Blues. Not just “like” it, but take it to heart, as they have with Bread Alone and The Baker’s Apprentice. As publication gets closer I find myself re-thinking dialogue, re-reading explanations and descriptions, hoping I’ve told enough backstory or worrying I’ve told too much.
Over the arc of years, these characters—like all of us—have changed. Wyn has gone from clueless young wife to skilled artisan baker to successful businesswoman. While she’s finding herself, the man she loves is losing himself. Mac’s always had a shadowed past and, now that he’s found success as a writer and contentment in a relationship, it’s come to claim him.
I don’t need to tell you that nobody lives happily ever after in fiction. If they did, readers would die of boredom. In fiction, there’s always an ache, a longing, a problem that can’t be solved or someone who’s gone away. Change, the one constant in life, is also the constant in fiction. In books that I read and even those that I’ve written I always wonder where the characters go after the end. What do they do? But they’re like children. At some point you have to let go of their hands and watch them walk away.
This being the last installment, the only way the “ever after” will change is in the mind of the reader. Which is perfectly fine with me.
I could be at home right now.
Curled up on the bed with my dog, a glass of good Shiraz, and a Turner Classic movie. Gigi was on tonight. We—by which I mean the Brown Dog and I—are fond of musicals, and anything with Maurice Chevalier. In Gigi, I love his duet with Hermione Gingold, “I Remember It Well.” It’s a song about two former lovers who each have different memories of the end of their affair.
I’ve seen the movie probably a half-dozen times, but I’d rather be watching it for the seventh time than teetering on these ridiculous heels, trying to appear thrilled to be at this party, when the truth is, I’m tired and my feet hurt. You’d think my husband might have noticed this. That he might have sidled up earlier in the evening, nibbled my ear and said,
Let’s go get a pizza and have dinner in bed.
There was a time when he would have. But not tonight.
Tonight he’s lounging gracefully against the bar, glass of scotch in hand, three women clustered around him like backup singers waiting for their cue.
A white-jacketed waiter appears with a tray, and two of the women reach for little canapés of brown bread with smoked salmon and crème fraîche, dusted with chives. The waiter distributes cocktail napkins and lifts empty glasses from their hands, but their eyes never stray from Mac’s face. I understand the attraction.
Of the four male writers here tonight, one is gay, one is a nineteen-year-old with acne and tongue piercings, and one is a sixty-five-year-old anthropologist, wide of ass and high of trousers. Mac, by contrast, is a rather fit specimen of forty-two, with nice eyes and fair hair going a bit gray at the temples.
Add to that, his novel December Light has just come out in trade paperback. It’s the story of a woman in the 1950’s who gives up love in favor of her career as a photographer and goes off to study and work in London. It’s been selling briskly—at least in L.A.—and suddenly he’s wearing the mantle of the “sensitive man” last seen on the shoulders of Alan Alda.
I watch the little group for a minute, imagining that I’ve just met him tonight, that I never knew the old Mac. Or, as I’ve started thinking of him, First Edition Mac—the guy whose idea of clothes shopping was a trip to REI. Who was happy driving a 1971 Chevy El Camino. Whose drink of choice was a decent pale ale.
Sometimes I still catch a glimpse of his ghost, wandering around the house in jeans and a flannel shirt, but for the most part, I live with New Mac, a man who has more Italian designer labels in his closet than a Miami pimp. Who drinks Macallan single malt scotch and tools around the Palisades in a self-absorbed, arrogantly sexy, black BMW 740, which my best friend has dubbed The Death Star.
I never imagined he’d sell the truck.
He and Elky were together long before I came on the scene, and I always felt like he and the truck were bonded somehow.
I imagined the three of us—Mac, Elky and me—growing old together, driving down Pacific Coast Highway on summer afternoons, Elky’s silver paint flashing in the sun. Alright, so the paint was oxidized white with a few rust spots, the tires bald, the upholstery splitting. That could have all been fixed.
But then Mac comes into the kitchen one day and announces that somebody’s coming over to look at Elky. I’m stunned. He never mentioned that he was thinking of selling it, much less that he’s been running an ad in Auto Trader Classic Trucks. Of course, that’s his M.O. He considers it, decides to do it, does it, and only then tells me.
Actually three somebodies show up to see the truck that afternoon, and the last one wants it. Bad. His name is Kyle, and he looks about seventeen. Tall, lanky, cute and a little shy. Sort of how I’ve imagined Mac at that age.
While I’ve always thought of the Elky as male—a buddy of sorts—Kyle’s pale blue eyes caress the truck as if it were a girl. He goes to get his older brother and two hours later Elky’s backing out of the driveway with my fantasy Mac at the wheel. I have a nearly overpowering urge to run out and jump in the passenger side and ride into the sunset with him.