Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots – Jessica Soffer

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a dual narrative. Our first narrator is Lorca, troubled teen. As the novel begins she’s been suspended from school after being caught self-harming in the school toilets by fellow pupil, Kanetha Jackson.

She said I’d been standing in the stall not “making”. So she’d kicked open the door with her neon sneaker. I hadn’t even known she was in the bathroom. The stupid thing didn’t lock. She found me with my skirt up, my tights down, my shoeless foot on the toilet seat, the paring knife to my thigh. Her lips were stained with fruit punch.

I wanted to ask my mother if she knew the pairing knife was hers. The Tojiro DP petty knife, her second favourite. I’d taken it off the counter that morning.

Lorca’s been self-harming since she was six and she seared her hands on the middle rack of the oven while making a cake for her mother. When she touched it a second time, the rack collapsed. Her mother complained about the mess and told her to get an ice-pack, shouting for Lorca’s father to comfort her.

After that there were light bulbs, tire spokes, vacuums. There were car doors, glue guns, and broken bottles winking at me from the side of the road. There was the grill in summer that could stay piping hot well after dinner, well after everyone had fallen asleep.

Her mother, having long since taken Lorca, left her husband/Lorca’s father and moved to New York to become head chef and creative director of Le Canard Capricieux decides the best way to deal with Lorca’s behaviour is to send her to boarding school. Lorca’s got December to prepare herself.

That evening Lorca hears her mother and Aunt Lou (not her biological aunt, Lorca’s mother was adopted by Lou’s parents) discussing food:

“What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten?”

…“Masgouf,” she said. “From an Iraqi restaurant that’s closed now.”…”You know how they say that life imitates art?” my mother said, “Well, life imitated masgouf. The fish was so good, so tender, and we ate it with our fingers. For a little while, I convinced myself that life could be so simple.”

Which meant happiness. Masgouf was my mother’s happiness…If I wanted to make my mother happy and remind her why I was essential to her happiness, all I had to do was find the recipe and make the dish. It would make things better. I could be worth keeping around.

Lorca sets out to find the recipe with the help of a local bookstore employee named Blot. Which brings us to our second narrator, Victoria.

Victoria is struggling to care for her husband Joseph who is dying of cancer. On really bad days, Victoria wonders if it’s time they discussed the secret they’ve kept for decades:

I wondered if everyone had a secret like this, something slightly wretched, bent and corroded with time, like a lost key that might not even unlock anything anymore. And if, in the end, it might be the only thing that mattered.

All those years ago, I gave up our baby. Joseph didn’t want to. Hated it.

When Joseph dies, Victoria is left with Dottie, their upstairs neighbour of thirty years who she tolerates for Joseph’s sake, and the cookery classes that Dottie has advertised around the neighbourhood that people have started to call about.

It’s not difficult to work out how Lorca and Victoria are going to meet.

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is exactly the reason I started this blog. As far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been reviewed in a single UK newspaper. I might suggest a couple of reasons for this:

  • Victoria is old and not a particularly sympathetic character on the surface;
  • Lorca’s mother is middle-aged (at one point she mentions the menopause – shocking!) and, bar one fleeting moment, isn’t remotely sympathetic.

But these are two of the things I loved the most about this book. The characters are real; they do the things that humans do when they don’t know how to cope, namely shut down and lash out. A significant amount of Victoria’s narration once she’s met Lorca is how she knows what she wants to say to her but she doesn’t know how to say it; it would make them both vulnerable and she doesn’t know if she can put either of them in that position.

The one concern I did have about the novel was that the mystery of Lorca’s grandparents and Victoria’s adopted baby would be resolved a little too neatly. Soffer swerves this beautifully and it is through these two threads that heartbreaking secrets are revealed. Their resolution creates the emotional heart of the book which is painful but comes with a glimmer of hope.

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a slow-burning story about three generations of women with secrets and emotional pain festering inside them. I highly recommended it and look forward to reading more of Jessica Soffer’s work.

Thanks to Windmill Books for the review copy.