Emily, daughter of the first-person narrator, has been anorexic for half of her 24 years. The story begins with a phone call and ends with the same conversation. The story starts out quickly with Emily voicing her needs and we realize right away that the mother has martyred herself for her dysfunctional eldest daughter.
The ending of this story felt the same as Brad Watson's "Alamo Plaza" that I recently read. The narrator in that story also dreaded future possible disasters so much that he actually wanted something to happen to relieve the dread. The ending in "The Joy of Cooking" feels kind of the same when the mother states, "Was it terrible that some part of me wanted her evening to fail?"
I enjoyed the use of numbers in "The Joy of Cooking." Emily's anorexia is about numbers, calories, weight, etc. and the mother uses a lot of numbers trying to make sense of her life as well as Emily's. Also, it is interesting the way the numbers are not spelled out in the typical way in fiction but written as Arabic numbers. It's a subtle reflection of the anorexics obsession with weight and calories.
I also like the use of a whole, raw chicken as the type of food Emily decides to cook for her new boyfriend, a mime. At first I thought that Emily would never purchase a raw chicken, bone-in, especially. But I like the visceral evocation that a dead bird like makes. Unappealing even to non-anorexics.
And the mime is a good choice of boyfriend for Emily. He goes through the motions of picking a bouquet of roses for Emily. As mothers often go through the motions of doing what they think they are supposed to do even as they know they are being manipulated.
"The Joy of Cooking" captures the pain and worry that is a permanent part of motherhood very well.