In Short Measures marks food and nonfiction writer Michael Ruhlman's first foray into fiction, and it is a spectacular debut with crisply written prose, packing an intense emotional punch and immediately drawing readers into its bittersweet love stories. Ruhlman (The Book of Schmaltz) creates flawed characters who wrestle with moral quandaries in order to fulfill their artistic and romantic destinies. The thread connecting the three pieces is the subject of writing fiction, particularly what it means as an artistic endeavor.
Ruhlman's first and longest novella, "In Short Measures," is a masterpiece about love, loss and regret in the pursuit of art, its title nodding to Ben Jonson's poem "To the Immortal Memory and Friendship of That Noble Pair, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Morison." Narrated in first person by Grimsley Feller, Duke University's archivist and curator of rare collections, the story unfolds in flirty reminiscences as Grimsley reconnects with former flame and Hollywood script doctor Emerson Randall at a professor's memorial. Despite the 25-year separation and different career paths, their shared history becomes too strong a temptation for Grimsley to resist, and both are left to wrestle with the repercussions of Emerson's infidelity. The second and third novellas are shorter variations of the first; each depicts regret over missed chances, which continue to haunt Ruhlman's protagonists beyond the safety of their carefully orchestrated suburban lives.
Ruhlman has a keen gift for dialogue, and his protagonists' imperfect quests to recapture fleeting memories of youthful bliss become compelling commentaries on middle age. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Food writer Michael Ruhlman crafts three novellas that reflect on writing, love, loss and regret.
Skyhorse Publishing, $35.99 hardcover, 9781634502252